Seattle's no slouch in the meat game. But until recently, this city's notable omission was a restaurant focused specifically on using the whole cow.
Enter Seven Beef, which last October began serving up to 30 different cuts of dry-aged, locally-sourced, grass-fed meat in a setting blending Vietnamese and French influences. On any given night, you'll find a selection of these cuts available on the menu.
Owned by Eric Banh (Monsoon and Ba Bar), and with Seattle-native Scott Emerick manning the wood-fired oven, Seven Beef is one of two places in town (along with Renee Erickson's newest restaurant Bateau) that focuses on butchering the entire beast for in-house service. Eater spoke with Banh and Emerick about why they choose grass-fed, how Seven Beef is different from Seattle's other steakhouses, and what defines their signature meal, Bò 7 Món.
How did you guys meet?
Banh: I met Scott at Le Pichet and I was cooking at Monsoon at that time.
We kept in contact and he helped me out at Baguette Box. When I found out he was in DC I called and let him know about my concept here. The time was right and the concept a good match with his French background and the program we have here.
What's makes Seven Beef different from other steakhouses in Seattle?
Emerick: I think, not to speak for Eric, but it was his concept to have a whole beef program. We started talking about a creating a simple restaurant utilizing the whole cow with a wood-fired grill that was also affordable.
Banh: The key is affordability. The idea all along is to sell the whole cow. Everything else is built around that. Cow and vegetables. Hopefully there are some compelling vegetable dishes to eat with your chunk of beef.
Why go with grass-fed beef vs. corn-fed or corn-finished?
Banh: To us, this was a given. Cows cannot digest corn and grain on their own. Big, commercial farms exist because it's cheap and easy. They have to give the cows antibiotics because they can't digest corn.
Emerick: There's definitely less fat on these cows but I feel that part of our success is that we've been able to age the beef in-house which really benefits the meat. If you let grass-fed beef age a bit, it changes the dynamic and flavor significantly.
I feel like the cows we have received thus far have been a lot better than what I've seen at local markets like PCC and Whole Foods. We haven't had one complaint about toughness or anything like that.
Tell us about Bò 7 Món, the traditional seven-course Vietnamese beef dinner.
Banh: Beef is a luxury protein in Vietnam. We don't have a lot of land and the weather is so hot so the grass becomes very dry and harsh for any cow to eat. When you eat beef in Vietnam these days it's all imported from Australia or New Zealand. And the beef they eat costs more than here! It's always been traditionally a luxury item.
The way to describe the Vietnamese seven-course beef dinner: sausages! Five of the courses are sausages and another is grilled beef with salad, usually with top sirloin. The last course is vinegar beef, for which we use eye of round.
A cow is a very large animal. How creative do you need to get to utilize it all?
Banh: Well, the primal cuts only account for 25-30% of the cow. The rest is bones, scrap, or so-called "ground beef parts." So what do you do with it? To be creative, Scott and his team started doing R&D at Ba Bar before we opened and were able to turn those cuts traditionally used for ground beef into something more profitable. We were able to start using cuts like Zabuton, Oyster, Teres Major.
Where are your ranchers located, and why do you work with them?
Emerick: We buy our beef through a fellow that owns a company called Heritage Meats in Rochester, WA, owned by Tracy Smaciarz. He taught us how to butcher and has helped us from the start. He buys cows from probably 6-10 local ranchers. Right now, our beef is being raised in Curtis, WA, just southwest of Olympia.
If you let grass-fed beef age a bit, it changes the dynamic and flavor significantly.
If you had to choose just one thing on the menu, what would you recommend?
Banh: The most consistently flavorful thing on the menu is the Cote de Boeuf (at $135 for 48 oz.). But if I don't have 3 other friends then I can't get it. So I prefer the Coulotte or the Zabuton.
Emerick: I would say to try a couple of different cuts of beef. It's fun to compare and contrast and two steaks side by side will be satisfying on different levels. Also, we do a braised belly that is beautiful.
Who are some of the top chefs in Seattle right now?
Emerick: For me, my favorite restaurant in Seattle is La Medusa in Columbia City.
Banh: I think Jerry [Corso] does an amazing job at Bar del Corso on Beacon Hill. Also, late night at Palace Kitchen. Where can you go that late at night in this town and get such a good meal for 14 years now?
What's your karaoke song?
Banh: I used to do karaoke a lot. It's been a long time but I love Wham! Scott always makes fun of me for loving them but I usually listen to them. It would have to be "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go."