It’s not quite dark on a foggy January evening when I step onto an elevator in the Lincoln Square South tower in downtown Bellevue. I’m on my way up to Ascend Prime Steak & Sushi, a restaurant not even a year old that is said to have views unparalleled by anything on the Eastside.
I’ve also heard that the main showstopper of the night, view aside, is the food. This doesn’t seem entirely possible after I step off elevator and onto the 31st floor and am immediately enchanted by the high-ceilinged and intimately lit space before me. Floor-to-ceiling windows with 360-degree views serve as impressive scenery that can be enjoyed from the restaurant’s many booths, small tables, fireside lounge, sushi bar, and three private rooms (one of which can accommodate up to 60 guests and includes a private patio).
When the eating begins, though, the backdrop of Mount Rainier, Lake Washington, and the Cascades soon becomes just that: a backdrop. Yes, the flavor is even better than the view.
I start the night at the sushi bar, which is made dramatic by the prodigious quartz wall shining behind it. Behind the bar, three sushi chefs, blocked partially by the long glass case displaying fresh fish, assemble rolls with sharp precision.
Sushi Sous James Saito prepares samples of his favorite rolls and sushi for me to try, all of which are creative and surprising. Take the Spicy Tuna & Prosciutto Roll, for example: an Americanized twist on a Japanese classic, the roll speaks to Ascend’s willingness to fuse unexpected ingredients and think outside of the box.
My favorite of the sushi? The Hamachi & Truffle Roll, which elevates the buttery Japanese yellowtail by pairing it with navel orange, Okinawan sweet potato, shaved truffle, and truffle aioli.
Each of the pieces and rolls that came my way were show-stopping — and at most other restaurants, the show would have stopped there. But Ascend is also known for its steak, and I moved from the sushi bar and lounge area into the main dining room to get a taste of the more American side of the fusion restaurant.
The dining room area makes for an enviable photo: roots of five different trees hang down from the ceiling, framing the view of the city from above. These trees, I’m told, represent the five kinds of wood that are used to cook different cuts of meat on the grill.
I tuck into a cozy and private booth with a view of Lake Washington just before a signature cocktail arrives — the Washingtonian — and is unveiled from underneath a glass cloche filled with billowing smoke. An ode to the Pacific Northwest, the next-level Manhattan is made with Woodinville Bourbon, house-made spiced cherry syrup, antica vermouth, old fashion bitters, and topped with candied orange peel and apple-wood.
The dark and smoky flavor is an excellent complement to the steak that soon after arrives.
One small piece of the Mishima Reserve Luxury Waygu filet mignon and it’s decided: the buttery cut steals the show — especially when paired with flawlessly smooth mashed potatoes and a sip of the Washingtonian. The steak on its own is to die for but Ascend — ever about elevation — offers even more ways to enhance the flavor, like roasted bone marrow, king crab legs, or seared foie gras.
Before I can even think to deny dessert after finishing the steak, the “Skyfall” is whisked my way. A small, yet decadent, end to the meal, the dessert features miso chocolate caramel, shiso berry gastrique, blueberry macaroon, goat cheese panna cotta, and butter cream. The drama of its presentation — dry ice is poured into the bowl and laps slowly across the table — is yet another signature move that shows the attention to detail embodied by Ascend.
I take a macaroon, top it with a spoonful of panna cotta, and take my sweet time with every bite. The delicate blend of flavors, rivaled only by the view of the foggy night sky, is certainly something to savor. This is one luxurious meal I won’t soon forget.