Restaurant Review: John Howie Steak

Amidst an array of national chains, the Eastside has emerged as a bona fide dining scene. Lorna Yee

Category: Eat + Drink Articles


John Howie Steak
11111 NE Eighth St., Suite 125, Bellevue
Lunch and dinner daily $$$

Friday night at John Howie Steak, the new upscale restaurant in the Bravern, Bellevue’s new, ultra-high-end shopping destination: We are eating deviled eggs, mounded with truffled yolks whipped into submission, at a lighted onyx-topped bar in the lounge. Behind me, a group of well-shod women spoon ahi into their mouths, wine glasses perched on the glass-topped baby grand piano, a design that allows it to also function as a table, thereby squeezing 10 more diners into the clubby space. To their right, a table of Microsoft employees bite into the Happy Hour burger—a half-pound USDA Prime beef monstrosity, its brioche bun struggling to contain strips of crisp bacon and molten cheese. The din is deafening, and there is a palpable energy in the room.

Of all the big-name restaurants opening in Bellevue in the past two years—Monsoon East, Pearl, Artisanal, Wild Ginger and El Gaucho, to name a few—John Howie Steak is clearly the place to be seen.
Yet, with four swank restaurants under his belt (Steak; his Seattle and Bellevue Seastar restaurants; and his upscale sports bar, Sport, near the Space Needle), owner/chef John Howie hardly has the air you’d expect of the man behind this scene. He greets me a few days after my Steak visit for our morning interview clad in jeans, a well-loved fleece and with a hearty smile. He has the easygoing nature of the nice dad on the block—the one all the kids want to throw a football with (big surprise—he has two sons, and coached and managed their sports teams for many years).

Like most successful chefs, Howie didn’t just wind up on top of the local restaurant scene overnight. The restaurant bug bit early—his first job, at 15, was busing tables at the Refectory, a now-defunct Bellevue restaurant. He honed his culinary chops on the job, bouncing around from restaurant to restaurant in his 20s, until his star turn at Palisade, where he spent 10 years, almost tripling sales and introducing the city to planked salmon. For a man who’s tied to his Eastside roots, it’s no shock that he opened his first restaurant in Bellevue—Seastar, in 2002—arguably the Eastside’s first seismic movement toward an interesting local dining scene.

Howie knows his Bellevue market well, having lived on the Eastside for the past 19 years, and calls it home. “I want to be able to drive to any of my restaurants within 30 minutes,” he says. His commitment to the Eastside is especially evident at Steak, a showpiece of a steakhouse—minus the usual old-school, men’s club vibe. Meyer Wells, an Interbay furniture company that utilizes reclaimed woods, handcrafted many of the pieces at the restaurant, giving the room a modern sensibility. The tables in the lounge show off the reddish patina from their previous lives as wine barrels, and the 14-seat communal dining table, located in a sectioned-off private room, is fashioned from a reclaimed fallen red elm found in Seattle’s Highlands neighborhood. “My team and I did a lot of research in creating Steak—we asked people what they liked and didn’t like about the more traditional steakhouses. Invariably, the feedback we got was that people craved intimacy, lots of light, less dark wood.”

Given its location in the Bravern, Steak was also designed to appeal to the upmarket, female shopper. The “runway” entrance to the dining room, a dimly lit walkway flanked by cozy booths, gives seated diners a close-up glimpse at the sartorial standards of others strolling by. In the airy dining room, an entire wall of pecan wood ripples and weaves, undulating toward a