Orlando G. Calvo

When I interviewed Todd Gold, director of food and beverage at Quapaw Nation’s Saracen Casino in Pine Bluff, just before the casino opened in October of last year, he told me, “We’re going to be a culinary and hospitality destination like no other in the state, I say even region.” Gold acknowledged that many of the guests would be coming to gamble, but added, “We want just as many to come here to dine, and then they’ll go play the games.”

There are several reasons foodies might want to make a trip to Saracen to try one or more of the casino’s seven restaurants, as we highlighted before it opened last October. Now the casino’s premier high end restaurant, Red Oak Steakhouse, will be one of the 38 restaurants licensed in the U.S. to serve authentic Kobe beef, an elusive breed of pure-blood Tajima Wagyu cattle that are born, raised, slaughtered and processed in Japan’s Hyogo Prefecture. According to the Michelin Guide, “The Japan Meat Grading Association gives each carcass a score based on its yield (A, B or C) and level of marbling, firmness, color and overall quality (1-5), with A5 being the highest possible score.”

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In order for Wagyu cattle to be classified as Kobe, it must have a yield of A or B and a meat quality score of four or five. The Kobe beef served at Red Oak is all A5 grade.

According to the press release, “Thousands of American restaurants sell a product called ‘wangus’, which is a hybrid of domestically raised Wagyu breeds and common Angus. But they call it Kobe, in spite of numerous lawsuits to alter the practice.”

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“The Kobe difference is in the genetics,” Gold said. “With Kobe, there are no big chunks of fat like on traditional steaks. Rather, the fat is evenly dispersed throughout the muscle in a type of spiderweb of ultra-thin veins. As a gift to our patrons, we are actually pricing Kobe beef without our standard food cost markup, to allow everyone to enjoy this prized meat.”

I asked Gold how the Kobe beef is prepared at Red Oak, which offers a five ounce filet, an eight ounce strip and a eight ounce ribeye for $150 a piece.

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“In Red Oak, we take careful care of our Kobe beef,” Gold said in an email. “Just a little salt and pepper is all you need! Finished on a 1,200-degree flat top grill for a perfectly seared, bark-like texture. I would compare the consistency of our Kobe beef to eating cotton candy … it melts in your mouth at first bite. Heavenly!”

Carlton Saffa, chief market officer at Saracen, said that Saracen is committed to offering a Las Vegas experience in Arkansas.

“Kobe beef isn’t just delicious,” Saffa said, “it’s also a marker for the Vegas quality we offer to our patrons. We sought the certification because we wanted to offer something that hadn’t been done in the South, and to reinforce our commitment to raising the bar in Arkansas. Saracen, through the Red Oak, is as much a food destination as it is one for gaming.”