Watching my friend choose her steak at Rodeo Grill reminded me of a classic Quentin Tarantino scene. Remember the bit in Pulp Fiction where Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis) selects his weapon from among the bric-a-brac in a pawn shop, rejecting a hammer, a baseball bat and a chainsaw before settling for a Japanese samurai sword? Well, it was like that.
First she picked up the menu and her eyes hovered over the certified US Angus fillet steak. She tilted her head slightly and nodded. Then she moved down the menu and clocked the Wagyu beef from Australia, marbling grade five. The nodding became faster. The nodding stopped but her eyes widened and pupils dilated when she saw the very same breed of Wagyu but with a superior marbling grade of nine. "I'm having that one," she said confidently, before noticing a sign that had been on the table all along, which read: "Certified Japanese Kobe Beef, Dh395 per 100g." Her jaw dropped and there was no other choice to make.
This proverbial no-brainer came with my full blessing. Very few restaurants in the UAE sell genuine Kobe beef, and you may occasionally come across an establishment trying to pass off Australian Wagyu as Kobe beef. The difference isn't in the breed (both are Wagyu cows) but true Kobe beef comes only from the Japanese city of Kobe in the Hyogo prefecture. Just as true balsamic vinegar can only come from Modena in Italy, only Kobe, it is believed, can produce Wagyu meat of such tenderness and intensity of flavour. So I was eager to try this most prized of meats, to see if it was worthy of all the fuss even if the price limited us to a cut weighing 150 grams.
We were suitably excited but our starters took so long to arrive it was as if the waiter was building the tension - Tarantino-style - before blowing our brains out with this steak of steaks. When my oak wood smoked Scottish salmon finally appeared with toast, lemon and ramekins of dill and mustard sauce, parsley and chopped chives backing it up like kung fu movie extras, I tore through the intensely flavoured fish with all the mercy and restraint of Uma Thurman in Kill Bill.
Likewise, my companion made very short work of her traditional Caesar salad, which she ordered without the roasted corn-fed chicken breast. The romaine lettuce leaves and "Tijuana-style" dressing were light, offered little resistance, and kept her palate fresh for the main event: the Kobe. Her plate eventually materialised, and I swear I could see a beam of ethereal light emanating from the modestly proportioned cut of meat. Her face certainly brightened up when she saw it, and her steak knife was immediately passed through its distinguished fibres like Willis's samurai sword through thin air.
There's an expression that flushes the face of somebody chewing an unfathomably tender and boldly flavoured piece of meat. It's a look of utter bliss and contentment, as if the person is being lowered gently into a hot bubble bath just after being told that their mortgage has been taken care of. In fact, "chewing" is the wrong word. You don't chew Kobe beef. You become one with it. This meat was so preposterously good that beside it, the accompanying baked potato and onion rings were like a couple of Lego models of the Acropolis huddling at the base of the real thing. Needless to say, the peppercorn, mushroom and Béarnaise steak sauces on the side remained untouched. Well, you wouldn't put a hat on Michelangelo's David, would you?
The trouble was that no matter how good the rest of the meal was, it all paled into insignificance. So, while my ostrich fillets had been pan-seared with pink precision, and the accompanying sweet potato, herb couscous and amarula cream sauce complemented each other well, it all seemed a bit dull in comparison. My dining partner knew this would be the case, so for dessert she selected nothing more highfalutin than a lemon sorbet. However, I was glad that I chose the Philadelphia cheesecake, which was thick, creamy and robust with an excellent cinnamon ice cream that perfectly offset the acidity of the mixed berry garnish. We indulged in a bit of post-meal relaxation and soaked up the gentlemen's club ambience of the restaurant. But no matter how long we lingered, the memory of the astonishingly good Kobe steak is bound to linger much longer. And to paraphrase Butch Coolidge, I'm sure I'll be back before you can say blueberry pie.
Beach Rotana, Abu Dhabi, 02 644 3000. Average cost of a meal for two: Dh800-900.