It is made for its steak, but The Butcher’s Table in South Lake Union has a raw bar, a grab-and-go lunch counter, a butcher shop and more. Sometimes more isn’t better.
From a corner booth in the subdued subterranean dining room at The Butcher’s Table, I watched three men register looks of joy usually associated with beholding your firstborn child. The new arrival, in this case, was a hefty porterhouse, one of the “signature big cuts” of beef offered at this new steakhouse on the southern fringe of South Lake Union.
The Butcher’s Table was built to showcase American wagyu from Mishima Reserve, but this bi-level, multifaceted establishment ventures beyond the traditional steakhouse with varying success. At street level, there’s a butcher shop, a grab-and-go lunch counter and a raw bar, plus a rambunctious liquor bar and lounge. It offers a casual lunch menu and pared-down dinner offerings, live music after 8 p.m. and, coming soon, a late-night menu whose working title is “Seattle’s Very Best Stoner Food.”
Yet, descend the stairs beneath a cascading “ice cube” chandelier and you’ll discover an amber-lit formal dining room appropriately dressed in black, from the tablecloths to the imposing marble hearth. It’s so acoustically sound you could record a podcast from one of the intimate corner booths.
The Butcher’s Table ★★½
2121 Westlake Avenue, Seattle
Hours: dinner 5-10 p.m. daily; lunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Friday; Happy Hour 3-6 p.m. daily; late-night menu coming soon
Prices: $$$$ (dinner appetizers $11-$18; entrees $25-$85 and up; lunch plates $12-$28)
Drinks: full bar; international wine list offers multiple formats and a smattering of older vintages; wines by the glass are priced mostly in double digits
Service: cordial and attentive; more experienced staff serves the downstairs dining room
Parking: valet $10 after 5 p.m.
Sound: quiet downstairs; boisterous upstairs
Credit cards: all major
Access: no obstacles; elevator access to both levels
All this, including the livestock, is part of Sugar Mountain, a Seattle-based food company best known for Beecher’s Cheese. (Other members of the family include Pasta & Co. and two other restaurants, Bennett’s Pure Food Bistro on Mercer Island and Liam’s in University Village.)
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Mishima Reserve comes from the offspring of Angus cows and Black Wagyu bulls, a Japanese breed. According to Sugar Mountain’s owner, Kurt Beecher Dammeier, the animals are pasture-raised on a network of 15 family ranches all over the western U.S. At 8 months old, they are sent to big, open feed lots in Denver, where they are fed a mixture of grain and grass for about 400 days, almost a year longer than traditional American beef cows, which are typically grain-finished for 100 to 120 days.
That long finishing creates a high level of marbling that exceeds the standard set for prime meat, the USDA’s top grade. Based on the Japanese grading system, 4-star American wagyu is comparable to prime, 5-star is comparable to the highest prime and ultra is above prime.
A tasting flight of the three grades (4 ounces each of New York, $70) offers an excellent introduction to wagyu’s charms. Apart from the tasting flights and the big cuts meant for sharing (40-60 ounces, $120-$160), all the steaks here are 8-ounce portions and closely trimmed of excess fat. They are preseasoned with a proprietary blend of spices, lemon peel, chili powder and smoky Lapsang souchong tea and cooked over mesquite, mopped along the way with a sauce of garlic, herbs, balsamic and beef fat.
The results are magnificent, from the pricey, impossibly tender rib-eye cap ($75-$86), rightly named “the flavor curve,” to more affordable, full-flavored “butcher cuts” like Teres Major ($30). Even a burger, an $18 lunch special made from coarsely ground rib-eye trim, was terrific, juicy even when cooked past medium-rare, stacked with marinated and grilled mushrooms on a well-made brioche bun.
All the brioche sandwich rolls are made in-house. So are zesty lavash crackers seasoned with salt, cayenne and fennel that arrive gratis when you dine downstairs.
The dinner menu offers a “steak set” that can turn your cut of choice into a composed entree. The components vary, but the smoky, oven-dried tomato, roasted fingerling potatoes and blue cheese crumbles on my plate were mundane companions for such stellar meat. There are better choices among sides and starters, and like the steaks, they can be shared.
A verdant chimichurri sauce ripples through “Mercer Island green beans,” leaving a trail of mint, cilantro and dill. Hen of the Woods mushroom, flash-fried in beef fat, comes with aioli bolstered with roasted garlic, a touch of Tabasco and aged Beecher’s Flagship cheddar. Think of it as a delicious Northwest cousin to pimento cheese.
Those sauces are straight out of Dammeier’s new cookbook, “Pure Food: A Chef’s Handbook for Eating Clean with Healthy, Delicious Recipes.” The complex, beer-based sriracha is his recipe, too. It’s a worthy dipping sauce for memorable beef-fat fries. Those crusty planks of shredded potato are first poached, then fried in beef fat. They taste like deep-fried hash browns.
The fries are the creation of executive chef Morgan Mueller, whom Dammeier lured from San Francisco’s Jardiniere. The idea, he says, was to “use my cuisine but hire someone to be fully focused on the execution. Morgan cooks like I would if I was better.”
The package deal included Mueller’s wife, pastry chef Ellie Mueller, whose compelling desserts include doughnuts dusted with chili pepper-spiked cinnamon sugar, and an elegant Basque cake served over sliced plums with a scoop of toasted almond ice cream.
Lighter dishes on the dinner menu, designed to offset the richly marbled meats, are not always successful. I did not care for the oddly airy, twice-baked potato whipped with Beecher’s Flagship cheese and lots of lemon.
Hollandaise was overtly lemony, too. It was part of a strangely deconstructed king crab Oscar, a classic steak embellishment. The sauce came in a bowl, whipped to a stiff peak, while the crab and fresh tarragon adorned the meat separately.
In one of the non-steak entrees, fresh herbs and a light sauce of crème fraîche and dashi moistened plump potato gnocchi and morsels of sweet Alaskan king crab, but the addition of charred Fresno peppers threw the delicate balance off kilter.
Perhaps including a raw bar was overreaching. The only item I recommend is yellowtail crudo adroitly paired with avocado, preserved lemon and charred jalapeño. Meat is the reason to eat here.
And here’s a tip: You can be part of the lively scene upstairs and still order from the dinner menu, or enjoy the quiet downstairs and order from the less expensive bar menu. “We’re in the business of saying yes,” says Dammeier.