Tuesday, November 01, 2011

John Howie Steakhouse

11111 NE 8th St in Bellevue, inside the Bravern Bulding.


A rare trip to downtown Bellevue prompted me to eat at John Howie Steakhouse. Conveniently located inside Bellevue’s funhouse of conspicuous consumption, the Bravern Building, I decided that John Howie’s old- school menu was just what I needed to make me forget the cheesiness of the surrounding neighborhood.

Perusing the menu, I noticed a dish that was completely out of place. Artichoke and mascarpone ravioli? At a steak house? For $23? You’d have to be a crazed lunatic whose taste buds were mutilated in a tragic fireworks explosion to order such a dish. Naturally, the woman at the table next to ours heard my ranting about the artichoke and mascarpone ravioli and glared at me, as she ate her order of artichoke and mascarpone ravioli.

Just then, some dude appeared. He strode purposefully over to that woman’s table.

“Excuse me,” he told the woman and her husband, “I’m John Howie.”

They seemed suitably impressed that the owner himself would take the time to come over. “Is everything all right with your order?”

“Oh yes,” the woman said, “This ravioli is fabulous. It’s to die for. I’m sure it’s going straight to my hips!”

John Howie smiled. “Well, good! But the reason I just wanted to make sure everything was okay with your order was because if you order ravioli at a steak house YOU MUST BE RETARDED. And I just wanted to make sure your special needs were being met. But now I know that you’re not retarded, but instead that you simply have bad taste. AND MOTHERFUCKERS WITH BAD TASTE DO NOT EAT AT JOHN HOWIE STEAKHOUSE, BITCH!”

The woman, appropriately flabbergasted by Howie’s enraged rant, remained sheepishly silent as he roared on. “You fuckers don’t deserve my hospitality!” he angrily swept the complimentary bread basket off the table, which they had barely touched. Five different varieties of awesome baked goods spilled out onto the floor: a thin breadstick, gnarled and woody like a wizard’s wand; a crisp salty sheet of cracker, almost big enough for them to have printed the menu on it; a small yeasty pretzel, studded with spikes of black lava salt like a punk-rock arm band; a sweet mini rye loaf; and what was possibly the BEST gougere I have ever tasted—peppery, cheesy, almost creamy inside, with a flaky buttery crust. I almost wept at this senseless destruction.

Howie wasn’t done. He picked up the three- layered salt caddy, each rung of which contained a different boutique salt: Portugese fleur de sel on top, pink sea salt in the middle, and black Hawaiian volcano salt on the bottom. “YOU DON’T DESERVE AMBIANCE EITHER!” He dumped the salts unceremoniously into the table’s candle, so that it looked like one of those layered sand jars, perhaps bought at a New Mexico rest stop, only with salt instead of colorful sand.

“This isn’t Outback Steakhouse. None of this ‘No rules, just right’ shit. Here there ARE rules: MY motherfucking rules, and I govern with an iron fist. No, wait, fuck that, it’s a PLATINUM FIST with lightning bolts shooting out of it and diamonds and spikes and other badass adornments. And rule number one at JOHN. MOTHERFUCKING. HOWIE. MOTHERFUCKING. STEAKHOUSE is that you order a goddamned steak!”

This chick was being buffeted by Howie’s vitriolic bellow, her hair and clothes blown back like that dude in the old Maxell ad. Then John Howie reached under and flipped up their table. “GET THE FUCKING FUCK OUT OF MY RESTAURANT!” The woman and her husband scrambled to get away, ducking under John Howie’s outstretched foot as he tried to kick the husband in his ass.

Howie, red faced, breathing heavily, turned around to glare at everyone in the restaurant. “Anyone else have anything to say?”

In retrospect I know I shouldn’t have piped up, but I’m addicted to poking bears, and bee hives, and hornet’s nests, and your mom, and everything else that causes a disaster when poked. But I really wanted to complain because my steak was too expensive: at John Howie Steakhouse you can order combinations: diners can choose two four-ounce portions of different kinds of steak. $55 got us one each of an American wagyu filet and an Australian A5 wagyu sirloin. The steaks were tasty, to be sure, but too tiny in my eyes. So I foolishly decided to call John Howie out on it.

“Hey John Howie,” I asked, “How come these steaks are so small? Is it because you get a lot of anorexic Bellevue chicks in here?”

John Howie turned and fixed his awful Eye of Sauron upon me. I immediately regretted my decision to fuck with him. He came over to my table.

“Are these steaks small, tough guy?” He stared me down.

“Yeah,” I told him, but that was a stupid mistake.

He leaned heavily on the table. “Let me tell you something, little bitch. Those steaks are superb. That American wagyu filet, that beef is so tender, it CRIES when you cut it. It’s the closest thing to pussy you can ACTUALLY EAT and DIGEST without them making a documentary about you from your prison cell. And the Australian sirloin is so motherfucking beefy it’s like failing to outrun the Bulls of Pamplona, but the only difference is that you end up with far less hoof marks on your dick!”

“But—“ I was going to make a joke about why John Howie’s mom has hoof marks on HER dick, but he cut me off.

“SHUT UP. I’m talking. All of the beef we serve here is GOOD BEEF. We don’t sell that Holocaust beef, like Costco or Outback, beef that comes from cows that are happy to die, from cows that want you to eat their flabby, drug-addled flesh so that you, too, can taste a sliver of their suffering. No, we serve REAL BEEF here, son: beef that drank WHISKEY and played FOOTBALL and climbed MOUNT EVEREST and LIVED LIFE THE WAY A GODDAMNED COW IS SUPPOSED TO LIVE. And if you think that’s not worth $55, then I don’t know why your parents didn’t abort you, son.”

I should’ve just taken my rebuke and ended the argument, but of course I didn’t. “They’re like the size of skateboard wheels.”

“Yeah, they’re skateboard wheels,” John Howie hissed. ‘Skateboard wheels that let you nose grind and Ollie on the half-pipe of PURE UTTER DELICIOUSNESS!” He leaned in closer to examine our plates. “Besides, you little fuck, you’re complaining about the portion sizes but you didn’t even FINISH YOUR FUCKING SIDES!”

It was true. The sizes of the steaks might have been small, but everything else was very reasonably priced for the sheer volume. A “cup” of seafood chowder was a mere $8 for a huge cauldron. It was creamy without being too heavy, and contained enough seafood to stock an aquarium: huge lumps of sweet crabmeat and delicately poached shrimp swam in this savory pelagic zone, coexisting peacefully alongside lots of corn, bell peppers, asparagus tips, and a few sliced scallions. You can get a bowl for $12, but I would sincerely hate to see how big that would be.

Potato pancakes, too, were a steal: for $6 we got two large discuses of shredded Yukon Golds, lacy like a doily in a great- aunt’s house. They were lightly fried to a soft taupe on the outside, while remaining sunny yellow and fluffy within. These were topped with a melty drift of crème fraiche and copious tiny green bracelets of diced chive.

Sauteed spinach ($8) came in a giant steel chalice. This spinach had been cooked down into a comforting bale, looking like a bigass pile of crushed green velvet, with lots of garlic, and speckled with little cubes of preserved lemon rind. I found this dish a bit too salty, possibly due to the lemon rind, but it was otherwise tasty.

And $6 got us a twice baked potato as big as a circus big top, covered in a billowy tent of really fluffy and silky mashed potatoes. Inside, the potato was studded with bacon bits and scallions; outside it was dusted on top with diced chives and microplaned cheese. This thing was the size of my cock, and there was no way I could’ve finished it.

“But I bet you left room for dessert,” John Howie growled, interrupting me reverie. “Didn’t you, you little hypocrite? Any questions about my dessert menu, prick?”

“Actually, yeah,” I said. “New York Cheesecake? Crème Brulee? Bananas Foster? Cherries Jubilee? All pretty lame ” I knew I was taunting that motherfucker but couldn’t help it, “Did you forget Crepes Suzette? I’ll have the strawberry shortcake.”

John Howie fumed for a bit before stalking off to the kitchen. He returned with a stylish concoction of molecular gastronomy: a couple delicate pucks of pastry were cantilevered with a frozen disc of whipped cream, still smoking cold from its time on the anti- griddle, and dotted here and there, red and green, with reverse- spherified strawberry jam and mint gel “caviar.” “Is this modern enough for you?”

He set the plate down onto the table. It looked so tasty, but just as I was about to dig in, John Howie swept the plate onto the floor. “SIKE!” he yelled, then body slammed the broken plate and began break dancing on top of it: first he did the centipede, then a couple back spins. He finished by leaping to his feet, making halting, jerky movements, arms akimbo, biceps held rigidly in parallel to the floor, hands pivoting freely: doing the Robot. “I AM A ROBOT.” he roared in his best Stephen Hawking voice, “SENT FROM THE FUTURE. TO DESTROY SHITTY FOOD.”

Right on his heels was one of his minions, carrying the real strawberry shortcake. For $8 we got a classic template of this famous dessert: a big tawny cube of airy shortcake was layered with a cloud of whipped cream and topped with a pile of macerated strawberries. Garnished with mint. You simply can’t get any more classical.

By this point John Howie’s rage had subsided. “You see,” he told me, his chef’s whites stained with red, white, and green smears of shortcake, “we aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel. I offer polished and understated service, and very high- quality ingredients, at a reasonable price. We here at John Howie Steakhouse put the customer first, which is why we do ‘old fashioned’ things like taking reservations. I know we can be staid at times. But not every restaurant can be Alinea. And that’s okay.”

John Howie’s humble admissions shamed me far more effectively than his brutal tirades ever could. “You’re right, John Howie!” I told him. “I’m sorry I made fun of your steaks.

He put his hand on my shoulder. “And I’m sorry for all that stuff I just did.”

Then we became friends.

And true friendship is better than any steak.

Rating 8.5 fabrications out of 10

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