I really don't like smelling my own breath all day, recycled back into my face via surgical mask. My hands are now allergic to alcohol-based sanitizer. And I miss the community vibe of my neighborhood, when everyone was out for walks and doing grandma stretches in the mornings.
I'm not complaining. These massive social controls seem to have been a massive containment success, and I'm willing to do my part. I've also found a lot of silver linings to the Special Period, like working on personal projects and perfecting my chocolate chip cookie recipe.
But I do have a twinge of nostalgia for life before the outbreak from time to time. It's all we talk about these days. It dominates the conversation. We are not back to normal, and may not be for several months. Our temperatures, or something approximating them, are still being recorded all across the city on a daily basis; we are now classed by traffic light colors determined by algorithm.
You know what it makes me want to do? It makes me want to spend money. To go out, like everything was normal, to a nice restaurant and spend some damn money. Not call another waimai driver to my gate. Not cook another three meals a day at home. I want to GO OUT and indulge a little bit by eating something I can't or don't want to cook for myself.
I want to eat fatty, fatty beef. I do enjoy it. And now that the suitcase beef place is out of business (IT WAS JAPAN, THE COUNTRY WAS JAPAN), there's really only one place left I know and trust, and that's this week's radar, High Yaki.
It may be too early. Don't confuse restaurants being open with restaurants having customers, or things being back to normal. Consumer confidence is still stuck at home, ordering Hema and disinfecting the house. There are precious few customers at the restaurants and bars that have begun to re-open. I'm not going to exhort you to go out and spend money in the name of "economic stimulus" — if you're not comfortable with it yet, I get it. Saving restaurants is not your first priority. It's not mine, either. Health is.
But maybe there are a few of you out there like me, who are chafing a little bit at the taste of your own cooking and the curfew on your apartment, and need to shake it all off for at least a couple of hours. This article is for you.
Quick Take: Superlative grilled beef, Japanese style.
What It Is: High Yaki is the successor to Nakama, a small and short-lived Japanese yakiniku restaurant that specialized in dry-aged beef. It closed in late 2019 but its soul has drifted just down the street and taken up residence here, next to a % Arabica.
The white façade gives nothing away from the outside, but once in, it’s a world of warm reds and sleek blacks, centered on a large bar counter surrounding an open kitchen. There’s a glassed-in charcoal grill for grilling chicken and vegetables, and then, set into the counter, a few slots for more charcoal and a gleaming metal grate. This is where the fun happens.
High Yaki, owned and run by Justin Xu, who is often behind the counter, takes the beef-centric ethos of Nakama and draws it out into chicken, vegetables, sashimi and sukiyaki. This is not folly; it’s extension of the grill and a more reasonably priced entry into High Yaki’s world. Plenty of people on my visits were eating chicken, many were eating tuna sashimi, and some, I’m told, ordered vegetables (I averted my eyes).
But this is why I've been back multiple times already.
Left on the grill for less than 15 seconds, until the matrix of fat just softens, and then rolled up into a two-bite size, this full-blood Wagyu is as good as fatty beef gets. It’s the apex of the meal, a soft and warm portion of animal butter, and it doesn’t come cheap — charged by actual weight, I worked out that each 30 gram slice costs about 100rmb. It would be hard to eat three.
It is hedonistic and luxurious, and as rich as it looks in every sense of the word. As it should be. Fat tastes good. Salted animal fat warmed over charcoal tastes even better. Think not of the health of the cow that it came from.
It also represents the signature idea behind High Yaki: indulgence.
There are extremely fatty cuts of dry-aged Australian Wagyu rib-eye, slices of Iberico pork neck and, if you’re willing to swim up near the four-figure mark, a whole grilled kinki fish.
Not everything comes at such high prices though. Rich, iron-y pieces of hangar steak are less than 60rmb per 100 grams, and chewy rib fingers are less than twice that. I’ve eaten all of them. Twice.
First Impressions: High Yaki is an excellent restaurant.
Xu and his colleagues, many of whom will be familiar if you spent any time in the el Willy universe, where Xu worked for many many years, do an excellent job with hospitality, serving you from behind the counter and cooking your meats on the grill.
(There are also a few comfortable tables if you’d rather not be at the counter or if you’re in a large group.)
The beef speaks for itself.
Prices are high when they need to be but can hover around 500rmb for two with a bit of clever ordering, like doing a high-low with the hangar steak and Wagyu butter. Pad it out with a little chicken and the bill drops even further.
Alternatively, you can go big and have High Yaki buy an entire cut of rib-eye or sirloin and dry-age it in the cabinet near the door, as some of their customers do, and then come in once a week to see how the meat changes with age.
Who knows. By the time your cut of beef is ready, this whole virus life may be behind us.