Welcome back to The Carnivore's Dilemma, a column by Jason Price that features recommendations on how to prepare and where to eat meat from Seattle chefs who venture well beyond steak and burgers.
When you think of New York or Chicago, classic old-school steakhouses come to mind: Brooklyn's Peter Luger's and Chi-town's Gibson's. While Seattle isn't home to as many deep, dark, wood-paneled legends, there is one destination in the area that truly compares to the greats: John Howie Steak in Bellevue.
Representing the new school of steakhouses, John Howie stands out for its emphasis on local, seasonal products; its range of 28 types of steak; and its options aplenty for the less meat-minded set. Eater met with meat-master chef John Howie to talk about what makes his namesake steakhouse tick, and what plans he has for his next venture opening this summer in Bothell, the Beardslee Public House.
With your well-documented success at Seastar and all things seafood, why did you decide to open a steakhouse?
Honestly, because we didn't feel anyone was doing it to the degree of quality that you could in the area. There are restaurants that offer great service but there aren't many of them. We wanted to bring that back with a true steakhouse feel.
We felt like we could offer something that was more unusual than the common steakhouse and to have the food be more chef driven. We also wanted to include Northwest products in a steakhouse menu. For example, all of our mushrooms are locally foraged and our produce is local.
What are the differences in cooking at a steakhouse vs. a ‘typical' restaurant?
Well, you do have a much larger inventory than at a traditional restaurant. Right now, we probably have about $30,000-worth of beef in this house. I don't even have 30 grand worth of food at Seastar.
We also do dry aging both off and on premises. We have the American, Australian and Japanese Wagyu on the menu all of the time. It adds up very quickly.
My chef here, Mark Hipkiss, is excellent at managing the meat program and having so many offerings. I hired Mark as a 19-year-old kid to help open Palisade in Magnolia with me. His dad was a butcher so he fully understands meat. Because of his organization skills and understanding of product he knows how to run a great steakhouse kitchen. He understands the concept of where we are trying to go.
How does your menu reflect your continually diversifying consumer base?
With having Microsoft in the buildings above us there are a lot of Hindus and Muslims who didn't want to eat beef or who desire Halal products. So we created lots of vegetarian options on the menu that our client base would eat. We also rotate the menu seasonally and our servers are well versed on how to modify items to suit vegans and lacto or ovo-intolerant customers.
So what's the John Howie Steak secret for grilling meat?
When we opened we knew we wanted to have different cooking sources. I've always been a huge fan of mesquite grilling for USDA prime meats. I think there's no better way to have ‘em. I wish we could do it on our trio or quad plate.
And we wanted a flat top with sea salt for searing. I also wanted to have an Applewood grill and I believe there's flavor and smoke that are integral to seafood and pork and chicken.
When we cook American Wagyu we do it with mesquite. The Aussie and Japanese Wagyu are simply seared with sea salt and nothing else. A large part of it is about texture.
Tell me about the Beardslee Public House opening and how it will differ from your previous ventures.
It's been a dream of mine for about five or six years now and we're targeting a July opening. Honestly, part of it is that it's easier to make money with beer than food (laughing). And the beer culture has grown so much--it's so popular now.
We'll start with 12 beers on tap and will open with a couple of guest taps most likely. My brewer is Drew Cluley - and he's a 20 year brewer. He was at Pyramid and then was the head brewer at The Pike Brewing Company. I stole him away from Big Time Brewery and we're happy to have him onboard.
Will there be a plethora of sausages and charcuterie?
Myself and my partner (Sommelier Erik Liedholm) - we believe that we have palates that really understand what other people like. If we like it, everyone else seems to like it. We believe we can do it as good as or better than others. If it's our distilled products or our brewed products, we knew we could do it well.
We also started to think about doing a more casual concept than Seastar or the Steakhouse. I'm a huge fan of charcuterie and we're going to be making our own in house. We'll be doing both whole muscle and ground--coppa, guanciale, and about 10 different sausages as well as landjaeger.
Our pork is coming from Salmon Creek--they raise Kurobuta (Berkshire) breed. We're also doing chicken mole sausage which goes great with a couple of the beers we will have on tap. Will also sell sausage raw for take home as well as pickled vegetables and cheese.
Sounds great. What else is on the menu?
We have a pizza oven and are doing a different style of pizza dough with malt in it. It looks like a thicker type of dough but it eats like a crispy dough which is my favorite.
We're also doing burgers with USDA prime ground beef--we'll just flat top ‘em and put a nice sear on them. And we're baking all our own breads and buns.
What are your favorite preparations of meat?
If I was to have any steak I could, I would have a bone-in Delmonico. I like a little bit of chew to my meat and it's got more than enough fat to give you great flavor. But it has to be mesquite grilled.
Corn-fed or grass-fed beef? Why?
Well, corn-finished really. That is the USDA prime. Grass-fed prime is almost an oxymoron. You really can't put the fat onto the cattle with grass alone. That's why we go the corn-finished direction.
I try grass-fed constantly. We'll sit down with ranchers and they will insist it's just as good. But it's just not there. If we were to start serving that I think people would be disappointed. Grass-finished cattle has its place but it's just not in this steakhouse.
All the Wagyu's are fed a higher protein diet: flax seed, brewing grains and not as much corn. But the prime that we're getting out of greater Omaha in Nebraska--I think has gotten better over last 5 years. The corn is different and there's a lot more non-GMO stuff going on, no hormones.
There's a lot of corn being used to create ethanol and the byproduct is corn that has been partially ground which is then fed to cattle. It's easier to digest than whole corn which is what we traditionally fed to cattle and I think the better marbling is because of this.
What off-beat meat dishes should people look for?
If you're a ribeye fan, you've got to have a rib cap steak. That, to me, is a steak that will blow you away with flavor. But you've got to be willing to eat a rich steak.
What's the next ‘big thing' in meat?
Well, no one is going to find a new piece of the cow that we haven't used yet at this point. Oxtail is like $7-8 a pound now and beef cheeks are wonderful but expensive. We have the zabuton here and the prime is used for sandwiches. But in Japanese and Australian Wagyu it's not nearly as chewy. It's probably the most unusual thing we serve.
Final question - What's your go-to karaoke song?
Well, you know, I haven't done it too much but I kind of got forced into it when I went to China. We were there visiting these restaurateur/businessmen [and] they have this club in Xi'an. It's an amazing club that has an auditorium like the Paramount. They have people coming out dancing, playing piano... and then out comes this karaoke machine.
The Chairman sings (I was told he doesn't do this often) and then, of course, he hands the microphone to me. At that point I'd had enough drinks to sing Hotel California. I know I probably butchered it but my partner told me I did well. So I'll go with that!