Even Don Wagyu’s Cheapest Sandwich Is Total Bull
The fancy sandwich shop sells an $180 version, but why go for that if the $28 one is bad?
Once upon a time, at a magical money vacuum cleaner of a Meatpacking District restaurant, the first menu item a guest saw was a plate of oysters paired with Krug for $100. The goal wasn’t to sell oodles of Champagne; it was to make everything else in the overpriced restaurant seem reasonable by comparison. In the cunning world of psychological pricing, this trick is known as anchoring. Patrons are shown an exorbitant good or service up front to reset their expectations on what is normal, prompting diseased musings along the lines of, “Hey, at least these $75 crab legs are cheaper than that glass of wine.”
This is the lens through which we consider Don Wagyu, a fast-casual spot in the Financial District that sells luxuriously fatty beef sandwiches — an Instagram sensation in Japan. It’s brought to us by Derek Feldman, owner of the Uchu tasting menu temple. “I love sitting for a long omakase experience, but that can’t be an everyday experience. I wanted to make that experience more accessible,” he told Bloomberg’s Kate Krader of his new restaurant. What a humanitarian.
Don Wagyu is just an everyday place to swing by for an $180 Ozaki beef sandwich, a Miyazaki version for $80, or an American-Japanese cross breed alternative for $28. Students of Suttonomics know what’s going on here: It’s a clear case of anchoring, with prospective diners having been primed by the litany of media headlines highlighting the most expensive sandwich.
I dropped by twice — to try the $28 version. On my first visit each of the six stools were occupied by dudes, with just as many dudes waiting. On my second visit, later in the day, there was just a single human eating at the wood counter, a dude wearing both of his AirPods, scrolling through his iPhone X as he ate. Neil Young’s “Rockin in the Free World” piped through the sound system.
Workers in a small kitchen coat the beef in panko, fry it, and sandwich the cutlet between slices of steak sauce-sliced pain de mie. It arrives in about ten minute’s time with a side of nori-dusted fries and a pickle.
It’s fair to say that the $28 isn’t out of line with the city’s prevailing crop of cheffed-up burgers. But it’s also fair to say that charging that much for a burger is a great way to make normal humans think the hospitality industry is in the shakedown business. Another relevant point is that at least some of the high end patties out there are uniquely delicious creations, not to mention products of careful sourcing and expert cookery. This $28 wagyu sandwich isn’t any of those things.
The meat is rare. That’s the only compliment I have. American wagyu can often be a gorgeous and hauntingly complex, exhibiting a fatty silkiness while also bursting with notes of iron, blood, and blue cheese. The beef at Don is about as silky as a Slim Jim and has as much flavor as high school cafeteria lunch meat. It is the apotheosis of bland. It tastes of bread, breadcrumb, and sauce. In other words, it tastes of everything but beef.
So the question is, if the restaurant can’t get a $28 sandwich right, do you trust it with the $80 version? Or the $180 version? No, you don’t, which is why I didn’t even bother ordering them — though I sampled a lousy Miyazaki version during my Uchu review.
Guess what? I’m rating the Don Wagyu sandwich a SELL. It ended up costing nearly $45 after adding on a coke and 20 percent tip. I should also note that the $180 sandwich is cheaper than a $600 meal at Masa, which is cheaper than a $400,000 Lamborghini, which is cheaper than a $50 million penthouse apartment. Really, our entire city is a constant act of anchoring self-rationalizations. But that doesn’t mean we have to buy into any of this bull.
Buy, Sell, Hold is a column from Eater New York’s chief critic Ryan Sutton where he looks at a single dish or item and decides whether you should you buy it, sell it (or just don’t try it at all), or hold (give it some time before trying).
Published on 12 Jul 2018 at 05:48PM