One unexpectedly warm evening, three servers in jeans, blue button-downs, and matching charcoal aprons huddled by the front windows at the Lakehouse to confer among themselves. Finally one hopped up on an aerodynamic white bar stool and stretched his arms aloft to swing open the oversize black casement windows, as if to let in a breeze.
“That looks much better,” the trio agreed, before they scattered to tend to their various customers.
It’s a simple act, typical of the hospitable service here. But also unintentionally comedic, considering this bank of handsome windows and the nearby row of adirondack chairs don’t face an actual lake, or even the actual out-of-doors, but an atrium in Bellevue’s newest, largest office tower.
Chef Jason Wilson’s always liked restaurants with pomp and presence, from the mod whiteness of his first spot, Crush (which closed after a decade in Madison Valley), to the roaring, flame-fueled masculinity of Miller’s Guild, his downtown Seattle steak house. The same scene setting is at work at Wilson’s new restaurant in the Lincoln Square expansion. And, damn—does this place have style, from the black-and-white floral wallpaper above white leather booths to industrial black ceiling trestles over endless white marble bar tops and columns checkered with live plants. Antler-shaped sconces illuminate teams of blue-shirted dudes, couples on the sort of date night that merits stilettos, and even families grateful for the restaurant’s arsenal of metal lunch boxes filled with kid-occupying toys.
Wilson drew inspiration from the area’s agricultural roots, plus the summer homes that historically dotted Lake Washington’s shoreline. Like the open windows, this statement rings funny in such high-gloss surroundings; here, it’s weird to encounter a seasonal menu in a place that’s hermetically sealed from any actual seasons. But it does check out when the food arrives. Pasta dishes, deviled eggs, and roasted carrots feel like the sort of thing you’d make when guests stay on for dinner…as interpreted by a James Beard award–winning chef such as Wilson.
Plates are as beautiful as the room. The perfectly cooked halibut scattered with grilled maitake mushrooms and a few manila clams is further proof Wilson knows how to accessorize, and when to stop. The pork chop comes bone in, majestic as one of those Medieval Times turkey legs but worthy of all the adjectives you typically assign to a really well-prepared steak. Between the foundation of grits and ample seasonal companions—in this case grilled peaches, shishito peppers, and surprisingly great baby turnips—it feels like a proper meal, not just a protein with token garnish. The chef honed his octopus technique since the Crush days; this latest iteration is tender within, charred on the outside, and even better when dredged through chorizo aioli. Another can’t-miss: the caramelized slabs of cauliflower. They may look rustic, but let’s just say the prep involves a brine (not unlike that pork chop) and dunking the entire head in curry butter before blasting it in the oven.
Some less impressive dishes lurk among the hits. The housemade pastas veer between wonderful and totally fine; your best bet is one that involves an egg yolk. The whole chicken prepared four ways sounds like a spectacle, tastes discordant, and clocks in at $64. That number, to be fair, is what happens when top-quality ingredients undergo ample preparation to be served in a high-end restaurant. But the price points make the Lakehouse’s occasional kinks—shared pasta dishes that arrive with no serving spoon, deviled eggs overcooked to rubbery—all the more glaring. The restaurant’s focus on form can sometimes impair function: The first thing you notice upon perusing the oversize leather-backed menus is the confusing formatting. Each plate’s accompaniments are listed above the actual dish. The “frozen stones and Klipsun verjus mignonette” starter sounds like madcap modernism until you get to the next line and realize this is, in fact, a plate of oysters.
Crush’s tasting menus established Wilson as a modernist, fine-dining guy; Miller’s Guild will forever associate him with meat. At the Lakehouse, seasonal vegetables dominate the menu and Wilson made sure the sleek white bars and long farmhouse table are all the height of a residential countertop, to evoke the feeling of sitting in somebody’s kitchen rather than at a bar. In 12 years running restaurants, he says, you’re bound to evolve: “Most people in this city are not doing the same job they were doing 10 years ago.”
Though the Lakehouse is Wilson’s own restaurant and concept, it supplies room service (and culinary cred) for Bellevue’s new W Hotel—an affiliation that really becomes apparent when you visit the restroom. The route wends you through an adjacent lobby that shares the Lakehouse’s emphasis on aesthetics. Visitors hold their phones aloft to photograph themselves in plush, oversize porch swings or pose before the massive pop art mural that envelops the stairwell. Navigate with care; it’s basically a statue hall of selfie takers. Wilson also runs a split-personality cocktail bar called Civility and Unrest on the tower’s lower level; it’s a cool hangout if you can get past the fact that the name sounds like a line of preposterously self-serious designer denim.
Some diners will dig the scene happening on that side of the restaurant; others do better sticking to the main entrance, the one whose windows open not only to faux breezes, but a collection of new restaurants (Taylor Shellfish, Japonessa, Fogo de Chão), an Eastside dining district unto itself. Wilson’s right—most of us don’t have the same jobs we did a decade ago. And people who still give the side-eye to 157-seat megaprojects accessed via byzantine parking garages might find themselves with fewer places to eat. Whether you embrace this polish or come to it warily, it’s hard to argue with a masterfully cooked pork chop.