Militant vegans, prepare your wrath! Vegetarians, prepare whatever level of indignation is indicated by your particular stripe of vegetarianism! Ethan Stowell's newest restaurant is a place for red meat, with five cuts of the red of the cow at the center of the menu. There's hanger steak, New York strip, filet mignon, a boneless rib eye, and a huge bone-in rib eye for "at least" two happy carnivores to share. Happy and well-off carnivores, that is: The big rib eye costs $75, and Wagyu specials are also a pretty penny. But this is Madrona, so no problem; Red Cow's already going gangbusters. If you want to join the bloody celebration, you'd be advised to book a table well in advance or be ready to wait a while for a place in the bar.
The great Roy McMakin–designed space in the über-pleasant retail bubble that is 34th Avenue used to be the great (if later embattled) Crémant, then June, then Restaurant Bea. Now that it's Red Cow, what started as a witty comment on traditional French decor has gone monochrome, the better to see the ruby-red meat—the interior's been painted in the palette of a black-and-white film, with a strip of mirrors above the banquettes providing flickering movement around the room. It looks somber, but it's buoyed by very pleasant servers, music that runs to the likes of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros or New Order, and the buzzing hedonism of those here to eat meat (who also don't tend to deny themselves good cocktails and wine, both amply available). There's a small red cow in a Plexiglas house by the host stand, and Stowell's hidden a small flock's worth of tiny toy geese here and there too, for those who can be distracted from their meat long enough to notice them. (It's just Stowell's weird sense of humor, a server said, adding that he also always wears funny socks.)
Red Cow steaks come with your choice of four classic sauces: béarnaise, compound butter, red-wine reduction, and horseradish cream. Béarnaise, as the server is happy to explain if you've forgotten what it is (if you ever knew), is like hollandaise sauce, but instead of being lemony it's full of the floral, anise-like taste of tarragon. It was good in a dinner-out-with-your-rich-great-uncle way, though the filet mignon ($38), perfectly cooked medium rare and perfectly delicious, hardly needed it. Red Cow's meat comes from places that make sure the cows enjoy their limited days: Painted Hills, Double R Ranch, and select other sources. The fries that accompany every steak are of the thicker style, more like a variation on American steak fries than French frites; if you are coming from a poorer place than Madrona and hate to see the leftovers go to waste, reheating them in a 400-degree oven makes them crispier and possibly better than the first time around.
The Red Cow burger comes with Beecher's white cheddar, bacon, and sweet onion ($15), and with its own hefty side of fries, it's an entirely satisfying and extremely messy treat. The large grind on the beef lets you taste the meat, despite the plethora of toppings—you might ask for the particularly slippery onion on the side. Red Cow's beef tartare ($14, though in my case a gift from the kitchen after the host recognized me) uses tenderloin, the server said, the way Stowell made it at his original restaurant, the haute Union downtown. It was heavy on the cornichons and capers, which overpowered the delicate, quite finely ground beef, and it ended up tasting like a beef version of tuna salad with the same texture—a very good beef version of tuna salad, but a little disappointing nonetheless. (Speaking of Union, Seattle's well-heeled gourmands are on tenterhooks for Noyer to open; located alongside Red Cow, the restaurant-within-a-restaurant will hark back to those days, with a high-end, prix-fixe dinner prepared for a few lucky people each night.)
There's a lot to eat besides beef at Red Cow: a full French brasserie menu including oysters on the half shell, a selection of house-made charcuterie, a roasted half-chicken, a pork chop. The seared scallops ($26) were big, cushy, ideally not-overdone pillows of loveliness (though their accompaniment of potato puree, fennel bulb, nettle pistou, and brown butter hit overkill with a topping of incompatible hazelnuts). Lamb tongue ($13) was crispy-seared bites that were intensely tender inside, with a potato salad that was creamy with champagne vinaigrette and had frisée for texture and brightness—this awesome dish might remind you of the food at Stowell's more adventurous Mkt.
The kind of vegetarians who're willing be in the same room with people eating lamb tongue may find it challenging to resist the salads and vegetable sides that have bacon in them. The sautéed cremini and shiitake mushrooms with the duck egg ($11) was very good, if your moral compass is loose enough to allow stealing from ducks. Failing that, two big slices of grilled bread topped with goat cheese, chives, tarragon, and mushrooms were excellent ($11). And chef Thom Koschwanez—a Chicago native who was previously a sous chef at the James Beard–awarded Central Michel Richard in Washington, DC—seems like the kind of stand-up guy who'd attempt to please a vegan at a place called Red Cow.