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5A5 Steak Lounge

All About the Wagyu

I am a carnivore. Give me a good, juicy steak a tad on the bloody side and I am in heaven. So newcomer 5A5 Steak Lounge, specializing in high-fat, high-quality A5 Japanese wagyu beef (the highest classification) was right up my alley. The grade of meat on offer is determined by the sublime combination of texture, color, fat quality, and marbling -- and, of course, the remarkable flavor that results.

The owners of 5A5, Stephen and Albert Chen (formerly of Circolo), have made minor cosmetic changes to the previous Frisson space in the Financial District, opening it up by removing walls and adding some heat with fireplace displays. But, looking closer, diners will notice that the circular booths, dotted spaceship lights overhead, and semi-open kitchen remain the same. Just as when it was Frisson, the eatery aims to be a club/lounge and a restaurant.

We joined the crowd of happy hour regulars from the neighborhood at the bar, and opted for a fruity and boozy Raspberry Lemon Drop ($12). The bartender took one look at the bottle of Opus One we brought and decided we didn’t require his time. One thing that seems to disappoint here oft and again is the service. I like to feel welcomed when I enter a restaurant, but on our visit, I felt as if I were planning on going to prom and ended up in church. We often forego a table for dinner at the bar, but that was obviously not going to be the case here. We tried to find the host to be seated, but we didn’t know where she was to be found.

Once finally seated, we checked out the scene -- a mix of couples, business diners, groups of ladies on girls’ night out, and one Mr. Michael Bauer. Our server was cheerful and accommodating, explaining the structure of the menu and the ordering the steaks by the ounce. As we ordered a few glasses of white to start, the server commented that the sommelier would attend to us shortly. One appalling half hour later, the sommelier finally arrived and acknowledged our bottle. And it was not a busy evening.

Things took a positive turn as our first course arrived. Beautiful tuna poke ($4) and wagyu tartare ($9) shooters arrived in shot glasses on a bed of rock salt. Both were exceptional in flavor -- the tartare a preview of the glorious steak to come.

The beef carpaccio roll ($8) is a play on sushi, with thin slices of beef wrapped around julienned jicama, topped with avocado ribbons. The flavors work, but the texture was off balance, resulting in too much crunch per bite. An iceberg wedge salad ($7) comes dotted with smoked bacon, blue cheese, and matchsticks of Fuji apple that add nice acidity.

For the main event we ordered the worldwide wagyu plate ($125), a textbook medium rare (more on the rare side as I prefer) 12-ounce New York strip sampling of Japanese A5, Australian F1, and American “Kobe”. This option allows you to really comprehend the exquisiteness of the A5 meat. The Australian F1 possesses very good earthy flavor, which hints at some gaminess. The American “Kobe”, which is a crossbreed between Japanese wagyu and Angus cattle, possesses rich, rounded flavor. As for the Japanese A5, imagine the most delicate, luscious sushi that melts in your mouth matched with a texture similar to foie gras. And the flavor is beyond compare; subtle yet complex. It’s enough to make you close your eyes with each bite. A knife? Not necessary. Separately, the Wagyu is ordered ($16-$18/per ounce) by 4 and 8-ounce cuts. This may seem astronomical, but after having tasted this superb specimen of steak, I would gladly pay the price again.

We balanced our beef intake with six ounces of buffalo filet ($25/6oz. and $30/10oz.), which was also perfectly grilled to a medium rare. The accompanying corn-boursin croquette is a lovely accompaniment. But honestly, who needs buffalo when you have wagyu?

Typical side fares are offered with a twist. We opted for the three-cheese mac and cheese ($7) over truffle fries with sriracha aioli ($8). Though not listed on the menu, truffle finds its subtle way into the pasta as well, and it was not necessarily worse for it.

A great steak deserves a great wine to complement it; perhaps a bold Californian or Bordeaux. The wine program here is somewhat odd and unfocused. While the champagne and chardonnay offerings are well chosen, there are no older, cellar red selections, which would seem appropriate for a steakhouse.

Desserts take on an Asian accent, such as the citrus cheesecake with yuzu caramel sauce ($8). We ordered the matcha tea doughnuts with kumquat marmalade ($8), and they had fluffy texture and a nice piquant touch, though we couldn’t detect much tea flavor.

The overall dining experience left us somewhat perplexed – which is unfortunate, given the excellent quality of the steaks. Without grand expectations, diners can be assured that the wagyu meat will be outstanding.

Reservations Essential? Yes.