Opening Dispatch

Renee Erickson's Bateau and Bar Melusine Debut This Week

Steak and oysters and two lovely rooms. With a third on the way.

By Allecia Vermillion November 2, 2015

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As the recent flurry of activity and door-lettering implies, Renee Erickson’s new oyster bar and steak restaurant will open this week on East Union; keep an eye on the Sea Creatures social media for more intel. (General Porpoise, the filled doughnut and multiroaster coffee counter, needs a little more time.)

Bar Melusine and Bateau are basically a collection of moments, observations, and inspiration Erickson and her crew amassed during travels in France. It's by no means a direct translation, especially given the polish of its newly remade Capitol Hill address. Each space has its own door, its own kitchen, and its own personality—and by god, they're all lovely. Let's begin.

Bar Melusine: Snacks From Land and Sea

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Erickson's original oyster bar turned heads across the country. No surprise—when she opens another one, it's the subject of much conversation. Bar Melusine sits right on the corner of 11th and Union; much like the Walrus and the Carpenter, there’s a curved marble-topped oyster bar, and a daily list of about eight oysters, mostly from smaller Washington farms, with some California and British Columbia sprinkled within.

But this place is hardly a Walrus repeat. Bar Melusine is decidedly French, its menu split between grignotages, or snacks, from the land and sea and drawn from Brittany and Normandy—France's northern coast. Small plates reflect the sort of vegetables that thrive in that sandy soil; there's even a take on Normandy’s “pre sale” lamb (there animals feed on salt marsh grass; here a leg gets brined and smoked to mimic that distinct flavor). Chef Jay Guerrero came over from Erickson’s original restaurant, Boat Street Cafe, to head up the kitchen here; some other dishes on recent sample menus include fried fish skin with ikura (roe) and shaved radishes, a salmon take on boudin sausage, and confit duck gizzards with smoked yogurt.

Melusine is a little larger than Walrus (50 seats versus 40 seats) with lots of two-person booths, plenty of French wine, and a cocktail list by Jermaine Whitehead that’s more herbal and food friendly than brown and boozy.

The room is full of light, white walls, and chalkboards; it's turned out in various shades of green, a nod to the food’s seaside origins. The tiled floor already has a strong Instagram presence and the restaurant hasn’t even opened yet.

Melusine takes its name from a mythical water sprite. Yes, Starbucks took its original logo from that same water sprite, but the version on the menu here looks a lot like Erickson

Another similarity with Walrus: No reservations. Hours are Monday through Saturday, 4-10.

Bateau: Beauty and Beef

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Erickson has a fine arts degree and affinity for all things rustic and French. Her business partner Jeremy Price has a more modern (and midcentury) edge. “When we meet in the middle it tends to be interesting and beautiful,” says Erickson. This is most definitely the case next door at Bateau, the partners’ steak-focused restaurant.

Price designed the white light fixtures resembling midcentury drums; they hang over pretty Windsor chairs. The fixtures recall, very intentionally, the umbrellas that hung from the ceiling at Boat Street Cafe. Memories from Erickson’s first restaurant are everywhere—Boat Street's hostess stand is here, under a coat of glossy navy blue. The familiar Jeffry Mitchell portrait of Jeffry the dog is behind the bar; Boat Street bread pudding is on the menu, and the slate-topped tables came from the Boat Street dining room.

One aesthetic flourish that didn't come from Boat Street—the sides of beef hanging in a giant window in the heart of the dining room. Price and Erickson and their third partner Chad Dale are busy assembling their own cattle herd at their farm on Whidbey Island. They will control every aspect of the grass-fed beef they serve, from feed to slaughter to butchering and aging. Until then, beef comes from Burk Ridge farms in Custer, which follows a similarly time-intensive process for raising grass-fed beef.

Bateau is more of a traditional restaurant, its menu a list of starters (chicken liver pate, steak tartare), a few entrees (a fish, the Boat Street pork chop), a burger and five cuts of meat, generally aged 30 days. The bavette is $28, the ribeye $66…remember dinner here comes with a flat 20 percent service charge. Erickson says the service—"professional, not fussy"—befits the price points. 

Sides are French leaning and steak appropriate: roasted mushrooms with egg yolk, frites and aioli, swiss chard with garlic and crème fraiche.

Bateau has 40 seats and what Erickson terms “a little baby bar,” dispensing classic cocktails, remade slightly with French spirits. Drinks are a bit smaller, in the style of French or British libations, and just $8 apiece. French wines prevail here too; the bottle list is organized by region.

Best of all, Bateau takes reservations, either via OpenTable or via phone—206-900-8699. Hours are Monday through Saturday, 5:30 to 10.

Coming Soon: General Porpoise

The haven of filled doughnuts needs another week or two to get ready. But there’s a hot pink La Marzocco espresso machine behind the marble counter and a quartet of seriously legit roasters: San Francisco’s De La Paz, Brooklyn-based Toby’s Estate, and Heart and Dapper and Wise, both out of Portland. Hours will be 7-3 daily.

Ooh, what's this—Price sent word this morning that there are 20ish parking spots available for diners after 5pm in the lot at 11th and Madison, a block away. 

 Updated on Nov. 1 to clarify service charge specifics.

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