FlintCreek Offers Up a Meaty Menu, Well-Done

First Eric Donnelly revived seafood at RockCreek. Now the Seattle chef has trained his eye on the land.

I had been trying for a couple of weeks to make reservations at FlintCreek Cattle Co. (8421 Greenwood Ave. N., 457-5656), Eric Donnelly’s new meat-centric restaurant in Greenwood, but crowds are swarming the space that looks uncannily like his first restaurant, RockCreek: two floors, exposed wooden rafters in the pitched ceiling, and that hard-to-achieve balance between rustic and chic. I finally settled for a 5 p.m. seating on a Friday night (the only other option was 8).

While Donnelly focused on seafood at RockCreek in Fremont—and gave Seattle diners a reason to care about more than salmon and halibut—he’s now set his sights on terrestrial fare, and I’m happy to report that he’s knocking it out of the park. This is no twist on the traditional steak house, serving classic cuts, mostly from cows, in trendy digs (though you can get filet mignon, a ribeye, or a rib chop). Instead, just as Donnelly broke the mold at RockCreek, here too he’s serving less-predictable meats—including bison, wild boar, and venison—and sourcing from smaller producers that don’t use antibiotics (on the menu, many of the proteins are prefaced by the ranch from which they herald). But what’s perhaps most intriguing and commendable is the way he composes a plate. The kitchen here doesn’t just execute a perfectly cooked piece of meat, it also creates a panoply of tastes and textures, using herbs, spices, oils, and pickled things to bring it to life.

Take the slow-braised bison short rib: With meat so tender and succulent, it easily could have stood on its own, but here it takes on a beef-bourguignon feel with a red-wine crème frâiche broth. That homey decadence gets beautifully averted with the addition of pickled mushrooms and baby turnips, tiny bursts of balancing acidity. Only quibble: It could use a bit more of the Parmesan grits.

I took a chance ordering the lamb crépinette; I’d only had it once before, elsewhere, and it was disastrous, the caul of the crépinette turned slimy and inedible. Crépinettes are essentially ground meat stuffed, sausage-like, into caul fat instead of a traditional sausage casing. In this version, it holds together perfectly, and the lamb, shaped into a patty, comes in a rich, flavorful hazelnut Romanesco sauce and with a side of a bright lemon-herb salad with parsley predominant—a very Moroccan treatment. Speaking of parsley, it’s used with abandon at FlintCreek, reminding us how beautiful and energizing an herb it is. Though the oven-roasted duck confit is slightly underseasoned, the side of caramelized lentilles du Puy (French, green lentils), savoy cabbage, pickled pearl onions, and Dijon it comes with helps compensate. They’re savory and sweet, earthy and refined—testament to the sophistication of Donnelly’s palate.

Besides these “Mains,” the grilled baby eggplant from the “Small Plates” list is a dynamite dish, the kind of thing you’re almost embarrassed to admit ordering at a restaurant specializing in meat. But, again, the treatment is innovative: Two long ovals of grilled eggplant are both juicy and firm, much like a good steak in fact, and they’re dressed with a fermented black-bean vinaigrette, sesame, shallots, tomatoes, and an herb salad. Reading this description on the menu, I expected the sesame to dominate, as so often happens,but here all the elements play judiciously and harmoniously to create a truly unique sensation in the mouth. And, again, that unexpected radiance of herbs and tomato makes the dish truly soar. Ditto on the lamb tartare, in which cured lemon, a delicate rose-petal harissa, radishes, herbs, and dukkah spice almost go a little too far in its excellence. They may mask the taste of the lamb itself, though it’s hard to feel bothered about it when something tastes so delicious.

There are starters and vegetable sides here as well; a warm, grilled kuri kuri squash served with a salty orb of burrata and doused with toasted pistachio oil and saba is lovely. I wish I’d ordered the pommes Dauphinoise, essentially a potato gratin, here served with nutmeg cream and Parmesan, but our server wisely steered me away from it, as I was having trouble choosing between it and another main dish. Speaking of the service, it was some of the best I recall in a long time, both congenial and confident. Not only was our waiter well-versed in the whole menu, but comfortable in her recommendations and quick to remedy any shortcoming (for instance, she insisted on buying us dessert because, when asked, we told her the duck confit was slightly bland). Gestures like these truly go a long way in making diners feel nurtured, and it’s easy to forget how rarely we encounter this kind of genuinely poised service.

Likewise, FlintCreek’s decor mimics its polish. Upstairs, the huge black and white canvases of Big Sky Country, showcasing horses, buffalo, and the vast prairie on which they roam, are stark and lovely. Once again, Donnelly pays homage to Montana, where he loves to fly-fish, and the state is well represented on the menu as well. The wood tables are seemingly perfect, until you look closely and spy tiny circles of different-colored wood, ringed in black (almost like water rings). We learned that this wood came from crabbing boats; the circles formerly held tools, but were later “fixed”—filled in—with wood. They’re unique in their imperfection.

The first-floor bar glows against the predominantly dark masculinity of the interior. A seafoam-green tiled backsplash rises to the second floor, monolithic, against it the varied colors of liquors beaming from glass bottles. Light fixtures are modern, of the current trendy bubble-like variety, with the innards exposed—and they contrast perfectly, helping the space stay contemporary and clean. Here and there, air plants add a bit of green. The whole effect is gorgeous yet understated, the kind of place where you’d happily linger over just one more cocktail or glass of wine—which leads me back, finally, to that dessert on the house. A bourbon brown-butter pudding with coconut cream, it’s as good as it sounds, the coconut cream at the top yielding slowly as you spoon your way to the boozier bottom—once again subverting the predictable and delighting with a surprise.