You want a measure of Seattle’s current excess of mad prosperity, pop in to Seven Beef or Bateau any evening around 7pm.
The tables will be full, with diners gathered around jewel-bright cocktails and platters of bloody beef. Perhaps even a monster dry-aged cote de boeuf, which on a recent visit to Seven Beef clocked in at 48 ounces ($135)—inspiring one bearded dude at a long table of equally bearded dudes to pose for a selfie, clenching its colossal bone in his teeth.
Welcome to the new Seattle—one so able to afford the menu Fortune recently dubbed a “leading economic indicator” that two of our most beloved restaurateurs have strayed from their prevailing specialties, Vietnamese and French, to open steak houses.
Seven Beef’s siblings Eric and Sophie Banh (Monsoon, Ba Bar) and Bateau’s Renee Erickson (the Walrus and the Carpenter, the Whale Wins, Bar Melusine, General Porpoise) have opened restaurants of startling similarity—and not just thanks to those Flintstonian cotes de boeuf. (The one at Bateau, FYI, tops out around $220.) On opposite edges of Seattle U, both feature whole-animal butchering and French embellishments. And both are run by chefs so poised in their vision they can accouter the very manliest restaurant genre with china plates and pretty lighting, in an aesthetic one might even call delicate.
Seven Beef, indeed, is anchored on one side by the leaping flames of a wood-fired grill, on the other by a buzzy bar. Reclaimed timber walls, soaring ceilings, twinkling light strings, stacked firewood, all that aroma wafting out of the wood-smoke—Seven Beef is equal parts ski lodge and backyard. An unused loft above and a chandeliered semiprivate room in back lend elegance, but the mood is loud and rough hewn, with lively music—Stones, Bowie, irresistibly lowbrow disco—crackling off a turntable.
That such a freewheeling place can sustain steak house prices is the first of many anomalies at Seven Beef. But the grass-fed, dry-aged, house-butchered, Heritage Meats steaks—many for sharing—are toothsomely crusted by chef Scott Emerick (Le Pichet, Crémant) and presented in a pool of demiglace. Diners choose their cut off a cow graphic picturing some 30 cuts of beef—of which, just a few—anywhere from three to eight—are on offer any given night. Hmm.
Monsoon and Ba Bar have long been famous for problem service, and it turns out Seven Beef suffers it too—only not from the servers. (Oh, they’re callow—one brought a serrated knife for the butter—but affable and responsive.) No, here the service problem is simply the fact that 90 percent of the steak menu is unavailable. On my visits the everything-else menu was divided, meaninglessly, into “Pretty,” “Rustic,” and “Burnt” categories—each holding some starters, some sides, some mains.
So the diner never learns that the burger—terrific, highly vertical, all caramelized onions and gruyere and aioli and soft meat in a bun that falls apart at a glance—is a main dish, not just happy hour ballast, or that the brandade—the salt cod preparation, here gooey as macaroni and cheese—makes much more sense as a side than as a starter. Some of these compositions are inspired, like a thin-sliced-beet salad heaped with apple spears and pistachios and microgreens; some are less than, like a spring roll whose meaty sardine filling controverts the essential identity—juicy, bursting—of a spring roll.
Very little coming out of this kitchen is strictly Vietnamese. An exception is the burnt sweet potato, which the chefs dig out of the embers, then drizzle with honey, and serve with fresh thyme—a lush companion for a steak, its sugars gone to caramel inside the crackling candied skin.
Beyond this, however, Banh wasn’t interested in “fusion confusion”; he hired Emerick for his French experience, and only instituted the bo 7 mon—the traditional Vietnamese beef seven ways that constitutes the prix-fixe part of the menu—to use up the profusion of grindable trim that results from any whole-animal program. The feast delivers an evocative tour of Vietnam, from the tumult of pickled and tart and herbal freshness crowning the juicy tri-tip to the steamed beef sausage on lemongrass stalks. A half bowl of beef congee, sweetly thrumming with clovey pho spices, brings soft comfort in the finish.
But ultimately, such a Vietnamese experience coexists awkwardly with the prevailing steak house identity. The schizophrenia is compounded by the menu problems—all of which conspire to leave the diner vaguely wanting. “It’s like the restaurant has a clear idea of what it is, but the diner doesn’t,” a companion wisely noted.
Bateau, on the other hand, is instantly knowable, particularly to anyone who recalls—which is to say, keens for—Renee Erickson’s original masterpiece, the Boat Street Cafe.
The white on white is here—check the arresting caged-light pendants—and the planked white walls, the delicate feminine chargers, the country French farmhouse vibe, even the same slate tables. If you miss it in the vintage Parisian “Restaurant Boeuf” light at the foot of the loft (also unused) you’ll get it when you see the wall-size chalkboard listing that day’s 30 or so cuts of meat, or when you peek into the meat locker where sides of beef dangle like Pavlovian bells.
Yep: 30 cuts of meat. Each listed by cut and price and precise weight, then crossed off with a long chalk stick when claimed. Though this setup has clear deficits—a piece of chalk snapped off and nestled prettily in my hair—it’s refreshing to see beef marketed with such care for the singularities of each cut, a stroke Erickson borrowed from the London whole-animal steak house Hawksmoor. Waiters strike a deftly educational tone describing the differences in cuts, leaving you with that sense of being in a smart person’s capable hands: great service in a nutshell. About the time you’re reading this, Erickson will start sourcing some of her beef from the farm she co-owns on Whidbey Island.
Erickson’s chef Taylor Thornhill (Aragona, Harvest Vine) prepares the beef in the French way, cooking with butter in a very hot steel pan, then topping the meat with more butter—perhaps a preserved lemon variant, perhaps bone marrow. Results are uniformly lush, medium rare by default, tender and flavorful across the spectrum from the cheap chuck shoulder cut ranch to a splittable and supremely juicy $83 18-ounce rib eye.
Fine as the steaks are, it’s the sides that vault Bateau to stunner status. Gently French, in Erickson’s signature style, a heap of celeriac slices rounded with walnuts and cream and plenty of Meyer lemon is a masterpiece of composition. Pretty circles of perfectly cooked octopus, dolloped with squid ink aioli and red pepper puree, looked like modernist art and ate with supreme balance. Fries are thrice-fried crisp, aioli is rich and velvety, a side of Swiss chard is elegantly creamed with creme fraiche, mashed potatoes are extravagantly buttered to a near-liquid level of decadence.
I could go on, about the veal sweetbreads piqued with capers and pickled elderflowers and the return of Boat Street’s perfect amaretto bread pudding—but it makes more sense simply to summarize that this is a kitchen worth trusting with both your appetite and your C-notes.
And C-notes they will be, here in Seattle’s steak house moment. “You know, I really thought we’d sell more burgers,” Erickson remarked wistfully—another whole-animal chef that just needs somewhere to put all that ground beef. “But people just want steaks.”