One of the great wine lists in the Seattle area that pairs marvelously with melt in your mouth steaks, John Howie Steak is a must stop for wine lovers. John Howie has assembled a superstar lineup of sommeliers that will impress you with their knowledge and service. Having dined here on many occasions, I always have been highly impressed with the consistent quality of wine service at John Howie. It is truly some of the finest wine service in the Pacific Northwest. Chef John Howie has been in the restaurant industry for decades. He notes how important it was to craft a great wine program that exemplifies fantastic service. He explains “When you are in a restaurant like John Howie Steak it is an expectation that you have great wine program. We want our wine service people to be educated and to fully understand how they can bring a great wine experience to our guests and do it in a way that makes the guests comfortable. When sommelier Erik Liedholm and I got together roughly 17 years ago at Seastar he asked for several things like to use the correct varietal stemware and the correct temperature for the different wines. When we opened John Howie Steak we wanted to improve our wine experience. Our wine director, Chris Lara, is constantly looking for ways to enhance our wine program, make it different and unique and special for our guests. I love that because we do the same thing with the food, the service and so why not do the same thing with the wine?” Sommelier Erik Liedholm, gives his explanation of how he initially derived the John Howie wine program nearly a decade ago. He mentions “When we opened John Howie Steak back in 2009 one of the first parameters for the wine list was – trust. Trust that the ultimate curator of the list (in this case Chris Lara) will be able to follow the company ‘wine ethos.’ That is, always follow the direction of the cuisine and offer enough depth that guests can splurge but also offer great deals too. Just because a wine is inexpensive, doesn’t mean it is of poor quality. Avoid the ‘record store clerk attitude’ - we are creating wine lists, not dissertations on viticulture, so try not to take yourself too seriously and have fun. We wanted to pepper the list with wines that guests know with wines that reflect your own personality and passion and always, always listen to your guests.” They absolutely have followed this approach as their list has really good range but also offers standout Washington wines that pair brilliantly with steak such as Leonetti Cellar Merlot or Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon.
Chef John Howie notes the importance of educating wine professionals at a great steakhouse, which in turn enhances the guest experience. He explains “What we do here that is different from everyone else is that all servers carry the minimum of level one sommelier certification. I fully believe that we have more level 2 sommeliers than any other restaurant group on the west coast. Sommelier Erik Liedholm, will teach the introductory class to any staff member who wants to learn. We take care of that for them. They don’t have to pay for their certification ands it makes a big difference. You have servers and back servers who can all talk about the wine. I think that shows that we really care about the wine program.” Advanced sommelier and John Howie Steak wine director, Chris Lara, is currently studying for the coveted master somm certification. Chris has some of the best wine service that I have seen, regardless of Michelin star rating. Chris describes his wine service as “Diligently following the Court of Master Sommeliers standards.” The wine list is really awesome, boasting a ton of wonderful Northwest selections.It is one of those lists that you really love taking the time to read. While not enormous, there are thoughtful local selections like the delightful 2017 Gramercy Cellars Rose, the 2014 L’Ecole No. 41 Merlot, 2016 Eyrie Pinot Gris, and a killer glass pour list. Looking to splurge on a first growth Bordeaux or pop a bottle of Krug? John Howie has that as well.
Chris Lara formalized the wine table service in 2016. Chris explained “For me it was a natural this is what the Court teaches and this is what we should do. I wanted it to be formal and that sense of there is no one else in town that will do this exact thing. Canlis has an amazing wine program and have phenomenal service but they rarely bring a table on the side.” Certified sommelier, Chris Arora, offers exemplary wine service. He gives his take on the importance of great wine service and explains “At John Howie we take pride in offering a higher level of service, and education is a large part of being able to achieve that. The difference between guests having a good experience, and a great one, can come from an explanation about what, and why they are enjoying things throughout their evening. The Sommelier team at John Howie continually pushes one another and the entire staff to have a better understanding of the selections we maintain on our list. And the constant rotations of local and international selections that we offer by the glass.”
Recently dining at John Howie Steak I noticed firsthand the impressive wine service while dining. Starting with a glass of John Howie Steak Signature Champagne from house Nomine-Renard, we were led through a wonderful dining experience. Advanced sommelier Chris Lara showed us how to open an older bottle using heated port tongs. This ingenious historic method, resurrected by the superstar sommelier team at Eleven Madison Park in New York roughly five years back, involves placing the red hot metal around the neck, it makes a clean break leaving the cork intact. The method originated in Portugal as an alternative to opening very old bottles of wine with corks that tended to crumble from age. The execution of this method at John Howie Steak is very dramatic added to a fantastic wine and food experience. It truly was a night to remember at John Howie Steak.