Transplanted to Seattle from Chicago in the 1960s, award-winning chef John Howie spent a decade at Palisade restaurant in the 1990s before launching Seastar Restaurant & Raw Bar in Bellevue in 2002. He is also at the helm of John Howie Steak found at The Shops at The Bravern, an upscale shopping destination in Bellevue. In nearby Bothell, Howie launched Beardslee Public House & Brewery in 2015, a family favorite dining destination. Adding to his restaurant repertoire, Howie is a partner in a distillery in Bothell — Wildwood Spirits Co. — with a second location in the works for Ballard.
Howie’s restaurants, brewery, and distillery share an ethos that emphasizes local ingredients, attention to detail, and appreciation of staff. And that’s not all. Howie was nominated by the James Beard Foundation for the Outstanding Restauranteur award in 2013 and has been invited to the James Beard House as a guest chef on five separate occasions. He has penned three cookbooks, has made appearances on The Today Show, The CBS Early Morning Show, Food Network and Cooking Channel, and is recognized throughout the area for his tremendous community service.
We asked him to tell us what he loves about the dining scene in Bellevue — and a little bit more. He’s also a proud grandpa and shared some of his favorite area outings with us.
Ask Chef Howie
Q: What are some of your favorite international/ethnic restaurants in Bellevue? What do you order?
A: Cantinetta. It’s an Italian restaurant where they make everything from scratch — including all their own pastas. I’ll order any of their pastas. I’m a big Italian restaurant fan. I love their Dungeness Crab Risotto. I also like the Vietnamese food at Monsoon on Main Street. I really like their Green Papaya Salad.
Q: Do you have a favorite regional wine?
A: I’m a fan of Mark Ryan McNeilly’s small-production wines at Mark Ryan Winery. He has fun with his wines. Mark makes wines that are accessible to everyone. He does a really great wine with blends. Passing Time winery is another one that people might not know about. Two former NFL quarterbacks own the winery — Damon Huard and Dan Marino. They make amazing wines and are located in Woodinville.
Q: Do you have a favorite locally brewed beer?
A: Of course we brew our own at Beardslee. And I love the Georgetown guys (Georgetown Brewing Company). They do wonderful stuff. They regularly have a beer that they use for charitable giving. You sell it for them, and the money goes to charity. I also love Mac & Jacks Brewing Co. and Black Raven Brewing Co.
Q: Favorite breakfast?
A: Chace’s Pancake Corral is probably the most “Old Bellevue.” It’s family owned, and that would be the place I would recommend for a person to get a flavor of what Bellevue used to be like.
Q: Tell me about your goods at Costco.
A: We have had three items in Costco: A tropical fruit chutney, a spicy African chicken soup, and a Thai coconut curry vegetable soup (the biggest seller). Right now I’m working on a chili and a Korean kalbi short rib, which has kind of a spicy teriyaki flavor.
Q: What made you decide to open a distillery?
A: For years, me and Eric Liedholm, my distillery partner and company wine director, had talked about doing this. We felt like we had the ability, palate, and ideas. But you couldn’t own a restaurant and a distillery in Washington state for a long time due to Tied-House rules. When the law changed, we opened the distillery with a focus on creating the best product we could. We have been recognized for doing just that in Berlin, New York, San Francisco, etc. In competitions, we’ve won double golds, golds, and silver, which was the worst we ever did. (Grey Goose took a bronze.) Eric calls himself the wine nerd and went to distilling school. He has the best palate of anyone I know coupled with the desire to create the best products possible. He grew up on a street in Michigan called Wildwood, which is where we got the name.
Q: How is running a distillery different than running a restaurant?
A: The big difference is the amount of people it takes to run it, which is much fewer than with a restaurant. We can run Wildwood with four people and one of them is my partner. At our next location, we will probably need eight to 10. The catch is that you have to create a product that people want.
Chef Howie on the Town…
…with His 6-Year-Old Granddaughter
“Her favorite thing is to go to KidsQuest Children’s Museum. She could spend an entire day there if I could survive it. She likes to eat at Din Thai Fung in Lincoln Square. She likes to watch them making the little packages of food in the window (steamed dumplings, bao, wontons, and more). The owner is a really nice guy and there is usually a wait to get in, but it’s like you are looking into a lab (the kitchen) with 8 to10 people hand-rolling dim sum, and it’s very tasty.”
…with His 13-Year-Old Grandson
“With my grandson, we head to Bellevue Golf Course. He’s 13 years old and he loves anything to do with sports, and it’s always the Burgermaster for him. I convinced him to go to Broiler Bay Hamburgers a few times. Broiler Bay is a classic hamburger joint with really great onion rings.”
…with His Wife
“My wife and I like to go hang out at the Downtown Bellevue Art Walk in the summer. And we go to Bellevue Square, where she has her favorite stores, but I can only last so long shopping. Then we go get something to eat. One of our favorites is Cantinetta on Main Street. It’s quiet and reserved and sort of romantic. They have great food and really great people working there. We also like Carmine’s, which is a little more upbeat. It’s an offshoot of Il Terrazzo Carmine in Pioneer Square in Seattle. The Bellevue spot is bright and airy, and the hospitality and lively, fun feel of the place makes you feel welcome. My wife also likes Baron’s Sino Kitchen & Bar, a Chinese restaurant and bar in Lincoln Square, where they serve one of the best versions of Peking duck you’ll ever have.”
A Toast from Chef Howie
Recipe: The Eastside Mocktail
Howie’s Eastside is made with Ginnocence, a non-alcoholic gin created at Wildwood Spirits Co., and Giffard Aperitif Syrup, a non-alcoholic Campari substitute.
Ingredients (each to taste):
Giffard Aperitif Syrup
Muddle mint and cucumber in a shaker. Add other ingredients with ice. Shake and strain into coupe glass. Garnish with a mint sprig and cucumber slice.