Who knew Bellevue was so striking from above? The folks behind Ascend Prime Steak & Sushi did. Perched on the 31stt floor of Lincoln Square South with panoramic views of the metro and its scenic lake inlets, verdant public parks and ever-growing cityscape, the owners — Bellevue’s Elaina and Paul Herber and Jeffrey Frederick of Las Vegas’ Elite Brand Hospitality Group — opened this upscale eatery and lounge last June.
The team went to great heights to secure the tops of grandeur at this bird’s-eye location, from kitchen equipment (like a wood-fire grill that required the assistance of a helicopter to be lifted into the building) to hiring premium steakhouse staffers (many folks came from John Howie and Daniel’s) and embellishing the dining room (five native woods used to cook the meats in the kitchen are also on display here, tree root system replicas hanging above diners).
The restaurant trio also owns and operates the Lincoln South Food Hall, the seven-concept, open air “feasting collective” of restaurants on the second floor of the tower.
Because of all this, the menu prices at Ascend are seemingly appointed accordingly — dinner entrées range from pan-roasted chicken breast at $39 to cream of the crop Miyazaki Prefecture A5 wagyu beef filet mignon from Japan (served based on availability) at $45 per ounce, with a three ounce, $135-minimum.
Many a Seattle journo and eats influencer got to Ascend before I did, so these details were not new to me before my visit last month. Most also started out their coverage illustrating the obvious pomp and splendor of the restaurant, panoramas and price tags noted early on but that overall satisfaction of the experience was surprisingly beyond expectations.
Even writing this, I feel like I need to say I didn’t want to like this place either. Ascend is like the super-pretty, uber-popular girl in high school that ends up being really cool, smart and down-to-earth, against all stereotypes. And damnit, I liked her, too.
Just like that girl, Ascend is far from simple beautifications and expensive taste: she’s worth every penny. Especially when that penny is spent during happy hour, to get the greatest value of the dining experience without receiving a single devalued cent. These are five reasons why you should check it out for happy hour (or later) when in Bellevue next.
1) Drinks technology.
A priority for us at Sip Northwest, the drinking technology and overall drinking culture at Ascend is also an elevated experience. The entire drinks menu is accessible through an easy-to-follow tablet, broken down into a touch-selection of happy hour, cocktails, Champagne, beer, wine, sake, spirits and library selections. (To avoid confusion, you do order from your human server, not the tablet.)
Once inside your chosen category, photos showcase the different options and selecting one will take you to a pop-out that details a tasting note of the drink, plus ingredients for cocktails. Pros outweigh the cons, the only major con being the lackluster and limited beer selection, though a few refreshing and intriguing imports are available.
Don’t miss the Washingtonian — a PNW take on a Manhattan featuring Woodinville Whiskey Co. bourbon, smoked with candied orange peel and apple wood and served in a puffing glass case. The tasting note detail of each drink goes for the entire wine list, too – painstakingly recorded by Brandon Rastok, beverage director and advanced sommelier.
2) The wine list.
About that list, grasping where he is and the regular clientele of the restaurant, Rastok balances those California favorites Bellevue residents seem to require with a wide variety of eclectic and international wines and local gems. A number of said locals appear by the glass — on a list of 10 for happy hour, 25 for the rest of the hours – like Lingua Franca’s 2016 Avni Pinot Noir and aMaurice Cellars’ 2014 Night Owl red blend, in addition to three sakes served as glass-pours.
3) The sushi.
Steak gets the top-billing in the name and flamboyance of Ascend. However, the raw bar is not only a physically large, granite structure seated between the spacious lounge and the expansive dining room but it also plays a large role in Ascend’s identity, particularly lighting up for lunch service. At happy hour, guests can find $6 oyster shooters on the menu — with uni, sturgeon caviar, wasabi ponzu, a quail yolk and sake — as well as hand rolls from spicy tuna or prosciutto ($12 for both, $7 for each) and hamachi and truffle rolls ($13 for both, $7.50 for each).
Not sushi nor fish but the Korean-style karaage (crispy fried chicken) should not be missed during happy hour, with its dusting of foie gras and dipping of almond foie butter ($18). Same goes for the burger: a dry-aged and wagyu beef-blend patty is topped with foie gras butter, truffle pecorino and pickles on a toasted bun next to nori malt vinegar-dusted fries. They like foie here.
4) Off-menu sneak-ons for the happiest hour.
On the lunch menu, the King salmon ceviche roll is a stunner with avocado purée, umi vinaigrette and cherry tomato ($26); while the A5 Olive Wagyu is unlike any beef you will ever put in your mouth ($55 per ounce, three-ounce minimum). Rare, elite, exquisite and marbled to perfection, this beef is not like other beef — the ranch it comes from exclusively feeds the cows olives and slaughters just two animals per month. Ascend is the only restaurant in the state to offer this butter-like beef and second in the country, next to the legendary Jean Georges Restaurants.
5) That view.
Regardless of where you’re sitting or standing — even in the hallway fresh off the elevator— the view from Ascend is spectacular. Looking west at Lake Washington and Seattle, south at Mt. Rainier when it decides to show and east at more rolling hills of developing city, it’s tough to beat this sight in Bellevue. Same goes for the culinary and drinking experience, just remember to bring your wallet.