Chef Renee Erickson’s refined steakhouse Bateau earns critic Providence Cicero’s first-ever four-star rating.

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Right now on Whidbey Island a small herd of cows is grazing in a pasture with views of Mount Rainier and Puget Sound. La Ferme des Anes (The Donkey Farm) raises French heritage breeds — Charolais, Limousin and Maine-Anjou — destined for Bateau, a new Seattle steakhouse that is the most ambitious venture to date from chef Renee Erickson and her Sea Creatures partners, Jeremy Price and Chad Dale.

The farm is part of the Sea Creatures family. Their restaurants include The Whale Wins, The Walrus and the Carpenter, Barnacle and, since last November, Bateau and two adjacent establishments on Capitol Hill — Bar Melusine and doughnut shop General Porpoise.

Erickson, who recently racked up a third consecutive James Beard Award nomination for Best Chef Northwest, isn’t the only chef with her own farm, nor is Bateau unique in butchering whole animals and aging beef on site. But no establishment in town pulls all those elements together with such elegance and élan as Bateau, earning my first-ever four-star rating.

Bateau ★★★★  


1040 E. Union St., Seattle


Reservations: accepted

Hours: dinner 5-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 5-9 p.m. Sunday

Prices: $$$$

Drinks: cocktails, beer, cider, European and Northwest wines

Service: superior

Parking: on street (if you are lucky); garages and lots nearby

Sound: moderate to loud

Who should go: unabashed carnivores

Credit cards: all major

Access: no obstacles

If you like your beef cornfed and wood-charred, and prefer to eat your steak in a dimly lit, mahogany-heavy dining room, Bateau isn’t your kind of steakhouse. The look here suggests a bespoke butcher shop in a fancy French food hall.

A chevron-patterned wood floor and rough slate table tops anchor Sea Creatures’ signature, white-on-white décor. Overhead lights encased in white wood baskets float like boxy kites above diners seated along parallel, leather-cushioned banquettes. Windows on one side overlook the sidewalk; windows on the other frame carcasses of beef hanging in the aging room. The sight is a carnivore’s delight, but would be gruesome for vegans or vegetarians to behold.

Large chalkboards next to those meat portals list the weights and prices of the cuts du jour. Butter-basted and pan-seared to what the kitchen deems the correct doneness, they are exceptional. There are expensive cuts but also lesser-known value cuts, one of the benefits whole-animal butchering yields. Gracilis, the cap of the top round that tenderizes with aging, showed up on the meat board recently, for example. Smaller 6- to 9-ounce steaks were going for $19-$26.

Two of us shared a 12-ounce Burke Ridge Farm coulotte steak ($49). Cut from the top sirloin, it was tender and rosy and rimmed with a caramelized fat cap. A 34-ounce Carlton Farm bone-in côte de boeuf ($150) fed four. The richly marbled, medium-rare beauty was presented to the table then whisked away for expert carving that facilitated sharing.

Lily-gilding comes in the form of brown butter with preserved lemon, or bone marrow butter, also a bit lemony. The dollop of your choice melts into pale rivulets that crisscross the steak’s burnished surface.

(All the beef is Northwest raised, grass-fed and finished. Beef from La Ferme des Anes is about a month away from appearing on the menu. Meanwhile, pastry chef Clare Gordon is putting the farm’s eggs to good use in her doughnuts and desserts like Bar Melusine’s malted crème brûlée topped with salted peanuts.)

Sides and starters play more than just a supporting role. Through some magic involving freezing as well as frying, potatoes morph into glorious frites. Fried sunchoke skins become earthy chips that lend crackle to the tender grilled tubers, basking in a luxurious pool of hazelnut milk, brown butter and herbs.

Bateau sample menu

Frites with aioli  $6

Reuben Mille Feuille  $11

Grilled sunchokes  $10

Steak tartare  $16

Burger  $17

Fried spot prawns with honey and walnuts riff on the Chinese restaurant favorite with the added allure of caramelized Brussels sprouts and buttery leaves of savoy cabbage for intriguing bittersweet tension.

Reuben Mille Feuille, a clever French twist on the Reuben sandwich, layers shards of braised brisket and fat-streaked slices of smoked beef belly with pickled purple cabbage and a good amount of Russian dressing between brittle rye wafers.

Bar Melusine ★★★  

Oyster bar/French

1060 E. Union St., Seattle


Reservations: accepted

Hours: dinner 5-10 p.m. daily; happy hour 5-6 p.m. Sunday-Thursday

Prices: $$ (snacks and small plates $7-$16)

Drinks: full bar; wines, mostly French, by the glass, pichet or bottle

Service: upbeat and obliging

Parking: on street (if you are lucky); garages and lots nearby

Sound: moderate to loud

Who should go: oyster fans; Francophiles; perfect for an aperitif; festive for large groups

Credit cards: all major

Access: no obstacles

The entire dining experience at Bateau is smooth sailing, from the moment the host takes your coat at the door, to the petite chocolate chip meringues that come with the bill. Let it be noted that Sea Creatures was a leader in abolishing tipping in favor of a 20 percent service charge at all of its restaurants. Clearly it hasn’t encouraged slacking off. Waiters are as well versed in bovine anatomy as in French varietals. They divine a table’s needs like an app that has access to your thoughts, pacing the meal with relaxed grace and humor. “One for offense, one for defense,” quipped a server, setting down steak knives next to the butter knives.

Bar Melusine sample menu

Bread and whipped butter  $5

Grilled broccoli shoots  $11

Pork rillons  $11

Lamb pré-salé  $13

Spot prawns  $14

Related video: Chef Renee Erickson

Renee Erickson, owner of Seattle restaurants including The Walrus and The Carpenter, reflects on how her Pacific Northwest roots have influenced her food philosophy as she pulls up Dungeness crab from Shilshole Bay. Read more. (Corinne Chin / The Seattle Times)

And, oh, that butter. The brand is Wuthrich, Wisconsin-made for more than a century. It’s whipped daily into a pale yellow, salted cumulous cloud to accompany the bread service at both Bateau and its adorable neighbor, Bar Melusine, a close kin to Walrus and the Carpenter, but without the wait because (hooray) you can make a reservation.

Bar Melusine is a mermaid’s lair resplendent in white marble, gleaming brass and shimmering aquamarine tiles, with a daily-changing menu of snacks and small plates that is equal parts seafood, vegetables and meat.

Order the butter and bread — thin slices of moist, dense rye from Sea Wolf Bakery and rustic sourdough slabs from Columbia City Bakery — with a pichet of Muscadet and as many oysters as you can afford. Then consider spot prawns sautéed in brown butter, served shell-on with a splash of yuzu over crisp coins of cucumber and celery root. The frites are less transporting than Bateau’s, more rustic and potato-y. A more compelling nosh are wraithlike baby broccoli shoots, blackened on the grill and paired with sesame yogurt and crispy fried shallots.

Don’t miss the pork rillons, cousin to rillettes, made from braised pork belly, crisped to order and smartly paired with purple sauerkraut, grainy mustard and sweet parsnip puree to check the almost unbearable richness. Also a must: rosy slices of brined, lightly smoked lamb pré-salé, a classic dish from Normandy where the animals graze in the salt marshes, delicious with sauce gribiche, an egg yolk-enriched cousin to tartar sauce made with finely chopped cornichons and herbs.

This is the sort of food Renee Erickson has built her career on from the early days of Boat Street Café. She is not in the kitchens cooking anymore, but works closely with chefs de cuisine Taylor Thornhill at Bateau and Bobby Palmquist at Bar Melusine. Erickson gives them creative space, but her influence is apparent. Buoyed by her passion for northwest France and her deep attachment to the land and waters of the Pacific Northwest, Erickson and her partners are building an impressive fleet, with Bateau as its four-star flagship.