A good steakhouse is a good steakhouse, but then there’s the ‘Best steakhouse, Best Chef and Best Service’. This is how John Howie Steak in Seattle is described fondly by its local residents – and no wonder. With its ZAGAT rating of 26 for service, 27 for food (which is considered extraordinary), and newfound affection from us Vancovuerites – its popularity goes beyond just the Seattle locals too. Having declared the steak to be amongst the best I’ve ever tried, these accolades come to me as no surprise.
Opened in 2009 by Chef Howie in Bellevue, this upmarket and classical steakhouse features all the steakhouse staples – and more. There are 7 tiers of the worlds best beef, from their 28 day, 35 day, 42 day and 70 day custom aged USDA Prime beef, single sources from Omaha, Nebraska; American Wagyu beef from Snake River farms, Boise, Idaho: Australian Wagyu beef, Sher Farms, Ballan, Victoria, Australia and Japanese A5 Full blood Wagyu beef from the Miyazaki and Kagoshima Prefectures, Kyushu, Japan. Paired with classical starters and sides, as well as the odd fish dish here and there (salmon, no less – this is the Pacific North West, after all), this restaurant, with all of its private booths, dark interiors, classical bar, exceptional martinis, and steak on display, is a classic take on fine dining. Perfect for romantic dinner dates, business, family, and even casual lunches – this restaurant is well placed to become an all-American favourite. And for those that don’t want to leave that delicious steak behind, there is a steak-to-go program that lets you buy Wagyu cuts and sea salts to be delivered to your front door. Excellent.
My guest and I arrived on a Saturday night to a bustling, busy restaurant. We started at the classical bar, enjoying a martini and old fashioned (both made exceptionally well and balanced beautifully), before making our way to our window-side table. Our delightful waiter recommended that we try their new three-course Pre-Fixe menu as the best sample of the John Howie favourites. This new menu features a rotating selection of the world’s best Prime, American/Australian/Japanese Wagyu beef selections matched with a satisfying array of starters, sides and desserts. To start, there is either a classical Caesar Salad, French Onion Soup or Watermelon and Burrata Salad. Dessert features Salted Caramel & Chocolate Ganache, Cheesecake with Huckleberry Reduction or Grand Marnier Crème Brulee. In between, one can pick from a myriad of fine cuts that include 8oz Prime Filet Mignon, 8oz American Wagyu Rib Cap, 8oz Australian Wagyu Zabuton, pan seared, 10oz American Wagyu Sirloin mesquite grilled and 4oz Japanese Fullblood Wagyu Beef, pan seared – amongst others. For sides, there are simply two tried and tested variants available – the Brown Butter Asparagus Spears with Meyer Lemon Hollandaise or Yukon Gold Potato Purée. Presented with such a delicious range of food on offer, my guest were torn between which cut to go for and were glad to take on the recommendations of our waiter.
In the end, we had the French Onion Soup and Caesar Salad to start. Coming with romaine heart, garlic crouton, Reggiano Parmigiano, lemon-anchovy Caesar dressing, white Spanish Anchovy, the salad was fresh and crunchy, with that familiar, delicious Caesar creamy tang, whilst the French Onion Soup, with caramelised onion, veal stock, brandy, Parmigiano Reggiano and Gruyere cheese, was as filling and moreish as it should be. To drink, we had the Friulano Venica & Venica Collio, Italy 2016 (my favourite, mythic producer) to go with the French Onion Soup. This delicious Italian wine, bottled under a full moon, is from the native grape of Friuli. Reminiscent of Pinot Grigio but with more weight and richer tree fruit feel, it stood up well to the spicy and creamy notes of the French Onion Soup, its acidity cutting through the richness beautifully. I had a Chardonnay to go with my cheesy Caesar salad, called The Walls Les Jeunes Vignes from Columbia Valley 2015. This delicate lemon, yellow apple, viscous white wine was expressive and flavoursome, adding welcome zest to the salad.
For the mains, I chose the most popular cut on the menu, the 10oz American Wagyu Sirloin, mesquite grilled, whilst my guest had the 4oz Prime Filet Mignon cut with the 4oz American Wagyu Filet Mignon Combination, pan seared. Presented beautifully as a simple fillet of meat – no sauce, no condiments, no excess – minimalistic on a white plate, all three cuts of meat were exceptional. Mine was juicy and medium rare, oozing with flavour and seared to perfection, with a crispiness to cut through and tenderness on the inside. Utterly divine, it didn’t need anything else. There were three types of salt to experience, including a heavenly black rock salt, but truly, it didn’t need them. My guests two cuts were slightly more lean and sinewy, giving a different experience altogether – a more robust, protein-packed cut of meat quite unlike mine. Both were exceptional, and similarly, didn’t require any add-ons. Letting the meat speak for itself, we almost forgot to try the sides, though were pleased with the creamy Yukon potatoes and al dente asparagus.
To drink, we decided to sample the finest red wines by the glass on offer – the Pinot Noir by Lost & Found in America’s Russian River Valley 2014, the Cabernet Sauvignon by Sinegal Estate, St. Helena, 2014, and the Bordeaux Blend by Cadence Camerata, Cara Mia Vineyard Red Mountain, 2011. The Pinot Noir was our favourite, aged three years in bottle before release to unfold with delicate layers of spice, dried citrus peel, tannins of black tea and a burst of luscious red berry fruits. Created by one of America’s most respected wine professionals, Lost & Found is a winery with a unique aesthetic that really shines through in the Pinot Noir we tried. The Cabernet Sauvignon felt like a more classic steak pairing for us, a robust concentrated, powerful and old-world style Cabernet with lots of graphite and black currants. Heavy, domineering and strong, this one is worth trying for the classic steakhouse lovers out there. Last, but not least, the Bordeaux, from former Boeing engineer Ben Smith’s estate vineyard, is another classic Old-World style wine with strong notes of blackberry, cranberry, earthiness, tobacco and a herbaceousness familiar to Bordeaux lovers.
For dessert, we shared the Cheesecake with Huckleberry Reduction and Grand Marnier Crème Brulee with coffees. The Cheesecake was dense and savoury, much less sweet than we expected, which worked well with the creamy sugary-ness of the Crème Brulee. They worked well in tandem, and despite the large portion sizes, were finished quickly. Making an excellent end to the meal, we left John Howie Steakhouse still salivating over the steaks we had experienced and looking forward to trying more. We will certainly be back – and recommend that you come too.
John Howie Steak
11111 NE 8th Street #125