This first Eastside venture by James Beard Award-winning chef Jason Wilson uses savvy technique to unleash deep flavor from great ingredients.
On my way to dinner at The Lakehouse one weekend, I cut through the lobby of the W Bellevue. The hotel’s Living Room Bar looked staged for a Vanity Fair photo shoot. A youthful posse, expensively buffed and detailed, graced sofas, chairs and shiny black ottomans. A caged DJ mixed tracks next to a billiard table. Out on the porch, couples canoodled in cocoon swings, while others sipped drinks around a gas-fired hearth, which wasn’t the only thing lit on this sultry night. Few were eating, but The Living Room’s bar bites come from The Lakehouse next door, where a more mature but no less smartly dressed cohort was having an equally good time.
The Lakehouse is the first Eastside venture by Jason Wilson, the James Beard Award-winning chef behind Seattle’s macho meat palace Miller’s Guild and the more feminine Crush, which ended its illustrious 10-year run in 2015. By then Wilson, and his wife, Nicole, were already working on what would become The Lakehouse, one of so many restaurants now open — or about to — in the Lincoln Square expansion, I’ve lost count.
A lakeside lodge is not what you expect to find on the second floor of an urban shopping mall, and not everyone will instantly perceive its outline. Look up and notice the roof trestles. They loom above a bar that’s counter-height, its white-marble top extending in a U-shape from the open kitchen. Together, kitchen and bar form the symbolic heart of this fantasy home, just the sort of weekend place I would envision for the couple who once transformed a dilapidated 100-year-old house into the chic, contemporary Crush.
The Lakehouse ★★★
10455 N.E. Fifth Place, Bellevue
Hours: dinner 5-10 p.m. daily; lunch 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday; breakfast 7-11 a.m. Monday-Friday
(New hours effective Sept. 30: dinner 4-10 p.m. daily; lunch 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday; breakfast 7-11 a.m. Monday-Friday; brunch 7 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday)
Prices: $$$/$$$$ (small plates $11-$20, large plates $28-$48/dinner), $16-$28/lunch)
Drinks: full bar; Northwest and California-focused wine list; low and no-alcohol cocktails; fresh juices
Service: animated and engaging
Parking: three-hour validation for Lincoln Square garage; complimentary after 8 p.m.; valet available at W Bellevue entrance
Credit cards: all major
Access: no access
In a space that holds more than 150 people, dining nooks create intimacy. The shelves and partitions dividing them are made of blackened wood that replicates the Japanese shou sugi ban method of charring cedar to preserve it. Each area is decorated differently: grey-toned floral print wallpaper in one alcove; ghostly white porcelain antlers in another; backlit wine racks in a third. A white column of greenery near a grouping of black Adirondack chairs suggests a veranda.
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In the kitchen, Wilson is in cahoots with executive chef Walter Edward, a Crush alum who was the opening chef at vegetable-forward Tallulah’s. The two chefs are in full-on Crush mode, using savvy technique to unleash deep flavor from great ingredients.
Corn soup, steak and a three-bean salad made an ideal summer supper. The soup tasted cornier than what you gnaw off the cob, because they roast the cobs to make the stock. The steak was wagyu beef zabuton, abundantly marbled flap meat, slow-roasted then finished on the grill, leaving it rosy from edge to blackened edge. Blue cheese and buttermilk bound the fresh favas, wax beans and haricot verts.
Peaches are among summer’s fleeting pleasures likely to be gone by the time you read this. A touch of sumac in a mint-and-arugula pesto accentuated the sweetness of the fruit, skin left on, tucked under salty, sweet prosciutto in a bowl lined with goat cheese.
Octopus will probably stick around. (For one thing, it’s a favorite of the Wilson’s 11-year-old son.). Sauced with chorizo-flavored aioli, the exceptionally tender cephalopod now hangs with green chickpeas given a briny boost from Castelvetrano olives. A verdant fish fumet for Manila clams starts with simmered fish bones. Flavored with greens and hint of lemon grass, the clams and broth end up alongside roasted Neah Bay halibut, grilled maitake and buttered Bloomsburg spinach sparked with chili and lemon.
Oil-cured wild Alaskan king salmon becomes delicate, lox-like gravlax paired with celery root crème fraîche and coffee flour toast that’s as dark as pumpernickel, but nuttier and faintly cocoa-flavored. (Product development for Coffee Flour, a global company producing flour made from the discarded fruit of the coffee plant, is a side-project for Wilson.) Almond granola made with coffee flour circled a disc of chevre cheesecake. Add fresh figs, a drizzle of olive oil and a scoop of blackberry sorbet, and you have a cheese course disguised as dessert.
Pasta is made in-house. Dainty Sardinian-style shell noodles played peekaboo with wild mushrooms in a lemony sauce distilled from summer peas. Sturdy strands of bigoli were twirled into a nest for exceptionally tender, if aggressively herby, veal meatballs. Both reveled in marinara that tasted as bright as sunshine.
All these dishes build flavor in an integrated, organic way. Other efforts felt contrived. The lunch menu’s Dungeness crab avocado re-imagines a BLT without the toast. Rashers of Nueske’s bacon crisscross the top, greens cushion the bottom, and fresh crab and a tomato slice fill avocado halves encrusted with crushed pink peppercorns and pungent seeds (nigella, coriander, mustard). It’s a novel idea, but it lacked balance and was sorely in need of salt and acid.
A whole chicken prepared four ways and meant for two was not the tour de force it should have been for $62. It’s rare that a skinless boneless breast beats out the bird’s other parts to win my affection, but this brined, herbed, roasted breast did just that aided by a pot of sublime gravy. In contrast, the Buffalo-style wings were hot and saucy but scrawny; the legs, confitted with lemon and sage, were painfully salty; and the fried boneless thighs were oddly fishy tasting. Neither of the accompanying salads — savoy cabbage slaw and mustardy German potato salad — exhibited much verve.
The staff, however, does. With a packed house, pacing can become a little erratic, but waiters are largely on the ball — funny, engaging and attuned to diners’ needs. Asked for something nonalcoholic to drink, a bartender mixed house-made juice blends to concoct a beet-red spritzer with fruity top notes and a roasted pepper undercurrent. It cost $5, a bargain compared to $14 cocktails and wines by the glass that average $16.
I watched one waiter charm a preschooler, helping her unpack toys from an old-school Mickey Mouse lunch box the restaurant lends to youngsters. Kid’s meals ($12) come on trays with compartments that hold a choice of protein — fish, chicken or beef — plus noodles, vegetables and greens. Grownups get beautiful handmade plates designed by Humble Ceramics and Keith Kreeger. You can’t buy those here, but you can purchase the Bradford steak knives ($125 each) and Savilino aprons ($85), a reminder that this is, after all, a mall.