Back to Bellevue for Fiery Food, Filet Mignon, a Full Body Massage, and Flaky Fun

Snowflake dancers 8064They’re calling it the “Magic Season” in Bellevue, a time of wintry fun during which you can strap on some ice skates and sing along to holiday songs while snowflakes fall.

It’s the 17th annual Magic Season across the lake from Seattle, with festivities daily through January 12. This year, I overnighted at the Westin Bellevue, right in the heart of all the action, part of Lincoln Square, just across from Bellevue Square Mall. After dropping the luggage in my room, it was an easy walk to Bellevue Downtown Park where I put on ice skates for the first time in at least 25 years. No falls, as it was just like riding a bicycle. Before long, I was in the flow of all the people skating circles in the covered, open-air rink.

After putting my feet up for a few minutes to rest back at the hotel, I was off to the Bellevue Botanical Garden for the Garden d’Lights display. Come dark, thousands of colorful lights transform the garden into a wonderland of nature and holiday scenes. It’s not a big exhibit, but long lines can make the loop a little slow-going, especially if you’re escorting young ones, who seem to be enjoying it most.

A short stay at Garden enabled me to get back to Bellevue Way in time for Snowflake Lane at the Bellevue Collection, with all of its music, lights, and colorful characters. It’s here that the snow falls nightly (regardless of the overall weather) through December 24. If you’re there after Christmas Day, the location turns into Celebration Lane through December 31. How can one not feel festive after that 20-minute celebration?

Having built up an appetite, dinner meant a short walk to The Bravern for a meal at John Howie Steak. Talk about an opulent setting and meal…JHS has the upscale steakhouse vibe happening with elegant booths, classy service, and fabulous food for the deeper-pocketed crowd. My dining companion and I enjoyed a multicourse meal which included tableside ahi tartare (the Anjou pear is a nice addition) and tastings of two salads (the tanginess of Humboldt Fog making the roasted beet salad my favorite) before two beautiful steaks arrived. Chef John Howie offers a wide variety of highest quality steak (be sure to check the display case at the entrance to the restaurant). We enjoyed a study in contrast between a 4-ounce Japanese A5 Wagyu filet mignon and a 16-ounce American Wagyu eye of the rib eye. (See the slideshow above for mouthwatering photos.)

Accompanying the beef were lobster mashed potatoes, haricot verts with fresh heirloom tomato sauce, and sautéed wild mushrooms. We barely made a dent into this feast (no worries: beef and potatoes make great leftovers), but left a little room to share one of the restaurant’s most popular desserts, the salted caramel and chocolate ganache tart.

With stomach stuffed, I was happy to walk back to the hotel, and even happier to wake up there the next morning. Breakfast in front of the fireplace at the Cypress Lounge & Wine Bar made for the perfect start to a slow day. Some might prefer to go shopping just outside the hotel, but I was content to read the newspaper, rest, and get ready for a couples massage at Truce Spa. We got to choose from a selection of massage lotions (lemongrass for energy for me, please) before practitioners worked on us side-by-side, providing an hour-long session of relaxation and rejuvenation.

Bookending all of this Bellevue activity was one of my favorite reasons to travel across Lake Washington: a chance to eat Chinese food that’s hard to find in Seattle. Close to the hotel is Facing East, with an extensive menu of Taiwanese food, drinks, and shaved ice. Further afield is Twilight 7. This sister restaurant to Spiced has a unique atmosphere (many come here for karaoke) and spicy Szechuan food that includes frog legs, lamb kidneys, and squid heads. A meal there was a hot way to cap a wintry weekend in the Magic Season.

Read on for photos and further description of what awaits if you take a similar trip to Bellevue. (Here’s the report from last year’s trip to Bellevue. And thanks to Visit Bellevue Washington for their assistance with this year’s trip.)

Snowflake drummers

Drummers march at the start of the Snowflake Lane festivities.

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The 20-minute show includes dance, music, and even some snow.

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There are lots of great photo ops at Snowflake Lane.

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One of the scenes at the Garden d’Lights exhibition at Bellevue Botanical Garden.

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Here’s the view from the Westin Bellevue hotel room just before the start of the Snowflake Lane show.

Westin guest room with view

A look inside my lucky hotel room at the Westin Bellevue.

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Open-air ice skating as part of the Magic Season in Bellevue.

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Reception area of the Westin Bellevue’s Truce Spa.

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The waiting/relaxation room at Truce Spa. (Photo courtesy of Westin Bellevue)

Cypress Lounge Wine Bar 900

Breakfast is luxuriously warm at the Cypress Lounge & Wine Bar. (Photo courtesy of Westin Bellevue)

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Breakfast, plated.

John Howie Steak Japanese A5 Wagyu Filet Mignon

Note the marbling of the Japanese A5 Wagyu filet mignon at John Howie Steak. Incredible to experience, though perhaps just a little too “oily” for me, as I preferred the eye of the rib eye. (Photo courtesy of John Howie Restaurants)

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There’s an elegant steakhouse vibe at John Howie Steak. (Photo courtesy of John Howie Restaurants)

Facing East lamb 8003

I hope some of the diners at John Howie Steak also partake of the great Chinese cuisine in Bellevue. Here’s the sauteed sliced lamb with Taiwanese BBQ sauce at Facing East.

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More lamb, this time noodles served with lamb meat paste at Twilight 7.

John Howie Steak Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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