If you love steakhouse quality steaks but hate – uh – sitting, America’s latest Japanese restaurant import, Ikinari Steak, may prove to be your new favorite eatery.
Ikinari Steak is an amazing success story in Japan. Chef Kunio Ichinose opened the first of these quick-service, mainly standing-room-only, high-end steak concepts in Tokyo in December of 2013. Today, over 100 locations exist throughout Japan, including over 60 in the Tokyo area alone. As of this Thursday, Ikinari Steak is officially getting its first American iteration in New York City’s East Village (though, apparently it's already soft-open) – and if things go well, Takashi Tsuchiyama, who’s running US operations for the brand, told Eater the “conservative target” is opening 20 locations in Manhattan in the next five years.
So what is this crazy steak concept that’s hoping to take America by storm? Despite offering up just 40 “standing stations” and a mere 10 table seats, Ikinari isn’t a fast food free-for-all. Guests are still “seated,” even if the vast majority of them are never shown to an actual seat. (Getting a spot is especially important being that, in Japan, the restaurant reports wait times of up to 45 minutes for the chance to eat a steak standing up.) Once shown their “station,” diners will find a number which they take to the chef’s butcher station. That’s where the magic happens: Guests order their steaks by the gram, choosing from one of three cuts – ribeye, sirloin or filet. The restaurant has a policy of selling steaks “super thick” meaning each cut comes with a minimum order: 300 grams (10.6 ounces) for ribeye, and 200 grams (7.1 ounces) for sirloin and filet. One policy that’s likely to thrive in the US is that there is no maximum order. There’s even a “beef mileage card” loyalty program and app that “allows diners to track how many pounds of steak they’ve eaten and ranks them against other regulars.”
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But back to the steaks: The beef, which comes from Aurora Angus Beef in Illinois and is wet-aged for at least 40 days, is cut to order and weighed right in front of customers before being cooked on an open fire. Steaks are served up with a daily vegetable, and then slapped down on a cast-iron platter that will continue to cook the meat to the customer’s liking. Once back at their standing station, diners can also season their steak to taste, including dousing it with a “Japanese soy-based signature steak sauce” which makes it a proper “J-Steak,” as Ikinari calls it.
Overall, the concept certainly sounds good for a novel experience, but whether it will appeal to an American audience over the long haul may be more interesting to follow. Pricewise, Ikinari Steak offers a significant discount over a traditional steakhouse, especially since no tipping is necessary, but at the same time, the food isn’t cheap. For instance, grabbing a minimum order 200 gram (7.1 ounce) filet is $22. That’s significantly less expensive than a steakhouse chain like Ruth’s Chris, but also doesn’t make Ikinari Steak a suitable replacement for, say, grabbing a burrito bowl. Not that it’s supposed to, but when meals sometimes only last about 30 minutes, a different sort of cost-benefit analysis kicks in.
Regardless, it sounds like you’ll know pretty soon if Ikinari Steak is successful in the US – because at the rate they’re expanding, you’d probably see one on your block this time next year.