I rarely trek to Bellevue, its restaurants tending toward the cookie-cutter chain variety (and expensive, soulless ones at that). But as the shiny city continues to grow, Seattle restaurateurs are opening outposts, or completely new ventures, to lure its moneyed populace.
The Lakehouse (10455 NE 5th Pl., 425-454-7076) from Jason Wilson (of Seattle’s Miller’s Guild) is the latest—and it’s worth the trip across Lake Washington. Connected to the W Bellevue hotel in the new Lincoln Square Expansion, it’s a sleek blend of all the current restaurant design trends, featuring a gray-and-white palette and succulents galore. But the Lakehouse goes a step further. Booths are extra roomy and outfitted in white leather, modern wallpaper in muted gray florals breaks up the almost staged effect and a wall at the bar is covered in greenery. It appears as if no expense is spared, including on the trough-like receptacle in the kitchen where open flames dance (we’re told it’s just for show, not cooking). As lovely as it is, I kind of wince at the forced nature of it all—and am ready to feel the same about the food.
Fortunately, the artifice stops at the menu. While dishes may sound like familiar farm-to-table fare, they deliver in unique and delicious ways. From the “Small Plates” section, the Palouse sweet corn soup is an utter marvel. It’s like sucking on the sweetest cob of the freshest summer corn, and the smooth broth is ridiculously, impossibly made even better with the addition of basil. You’ll wonder why you haven’t had this duo before. Here, lumps of Dungeness crab and thin pieces of zucchini add textural interest. The waiter can split a bowl two ways (in our case, three ways); everyone slurped in ecstasy for the minute it took us to devour it.
Likewise, the roasted cauliflower (a menu trope at this point) managed to be different than all of the other charred versions. Here, it is flavored generously with curry spice and served with a preserved lemon and kale pesto, along with green apple and herb hummus. It sounds like there’s a lot going on—and I typically recoil from so many elements—but the kitchen makes it work here, resulting in a cohesive dish that sings with brightness and earthy spice. A small plate of semolina rigatoni pasta is a worthy ode to summer, served in a green garlic pesto that’s not dense and clinging to the noodles, but more of a sauce that serves to buoy candy-sweet red and green heirloom cherry tomatoes, tangy artichokes and slabs of ricotta salata.
Our appetites splayed open, we were eagerly anticipating our large plates, but some 20 minutes later, our waiter arrived with an apology dish; something had apparently gone awry, which, given our 4:45 seating (and a fairly quiet restaurant) seemed odd. Thankfully, that dish was another hit. House-made sarde shell pasta (small twisted tubes) cozied up with summer-fresh peas and bites of morels, made luscious with pecorino and fresh with mint. It worked to pacify our hungry bellies and lull our impatience, but when 15 more minutes passed and there was still no food, we began to wonder what was up.
Just as we were on the verge of outright annoyance, our server showed up with our three main dishes. To his chagrin, our table was devoid of plates—a quick gesture and sharp tone to a busser made them magically appear. Service has kinks to work out; we had to ask to have our table wiped down before our main dishes arrived, and the changing of cutlery between courses was clumsy. For these price points (large plates from $29 to $48), you expect greater finesse.
But once again, the fine food prevailed. A grilled Niman Ranch pork chop is removed from the bone for you, though the bone is still served with some meat clinging to it, for gnawing. It’s cooked to absolute perfection (I’m guessing via sous vide), which is often not the case with such a large chop. This one rests on a sizeable smear of creamy white cheddar grits, and it comes with two quartered grilled apricots, an apricot Dijon sauce and baby Tokyo turnips. Again, everything manages to harmoniously work—and nothing detracts from the primary protein.
Meanwhile, the roasted Neah Bay halibut was also cooked splendidly, served with manila clams and lemon chile spinach, all in a delicate broth of maitake mushrooms. The only issue here—a mistake in ordering, really—was that the delicacy of this dish got lost next to the pork chop and the chicken, the latter of which I’m about to detail.
Aside from “large plates,” the menu offers two items with sides made for sharing among up to four people: a 55-day dry-aged prime rib chop for $115 or a Mad Hatcher Farms whole chicken in four preparations for $63. We went with the latter, and it came on a platter with three house-made sauces (blue cheese-based, hot sauce and gravy), a tasty chilled German potato salad and a fresh Savoy cabbage/green apple coleslaw. The chicken itself was mostly successful. Two pieces, lightly crisped and lemony, were the best. The fried chicken portion was solid if not mind-blowing, while the grilled chicken was slightly overcooked but saved by the sauces. The Buffalo wings were fine. It was ultimately a fun dish to eat, with everyone grabbing a little bit of everything—perhaps a bit more greedily, since it arrived so late.
Given how well the food was faring, I simply had to try dessert. This was a good decision. The highlight was the cheesecake served with a basil sorbet, a toffee nut crunch and small, tart jewels of gooseberries. The sweet/sour, the creamy/crunchy, the decadent/fresh—it was a texture-and-flavor home run. The apricot financier was lovely too, the cake topped with a sublimely smooth olive oil and chèvre ice cream and served with tart roasted chunks of apricot. Desserts are so often afterthoughts these days, premade and uninspired, and these were by far the best I’ve encountered in a while.
Jason Wilson has successfully crossed the lake, and so should you. Word is out, and you’ve got the Eastsiders to compete with for reservations. Just try to avoid rush-hour traffic and park at the mall (the skybridge will take you right to the restaurant).