GO WITH FLO
Posted on April 28th, 2014 | By Ethan Chung
SIMPLE, STYLISH AND MORE THAN SUSHI
Story and Photos by Ethan Chung
Flo Restaurant and Sake Bar opened in 2003 just as Bellevue was beginning to boom, but certainly before the city raised its restaurant stakes with the arrival of spots like El Gaucho, Monsoon East and John Howie Steak that already had well-established roots in Seattle. Flo is an original, at least in the minds of its owners, Steve and Jia Mookin. “There were lots of challenges, especially in Bellevue at that time. The style was difficult to accept,” Steve said. The style he speaks of defines Flo — simple, yet elegant. Refined, but accessible. Authentic enough in its offerings to please well-traveled diners, but gentle enough in its foray into fusion so as to not muddy the waters of that authenticity.
That style remains today, and it’s a big part of what’s made the restaurant so successful. Readers of 425 magazine voted Flo as Best Sushi in this year’s Best of 425 poll. The Mookins are busier than ever with the restaurant and a constant influx of requests for catering and private events. How have they managed to keep this going for more than 10 years? Steve says effort is at the heart of Flo, and that comes from Jia. Steve has a background in real estate and finance, but the couple didn’t have any experience in running a restaurant before Flo. He was well aware of the high failure rate of restaurants. He knew the risks. “What pushed me as a business person was Jia. I told her if you really want this, show me. And she did. She worked. She hosted. She served. She learned every aspect of the business. Jia’s vision was clear. Her effort convinced me,” he said.
But success in a restaurant can’t happen with effort alone. It must have good food, and Flo has plenty to offer. If you’re looking for traditional sushi, Flo is one of the best bets on the Eastside. “We don’t go off track with sushi. It’s very traditional. Our head sushi chef worked under Shiro-san,” Steve said. If you didn’t know, Shiro Kashiba owns Shiro’s, which is arguably Seattle’s best and most highly acclaimed sushi restaurant. “The goal with the sushi is to keep it simple. Don’t mask it.”
Are you a sushi novice? Steve says not to be intimidated. “Talk to your sushi chef. Ask them questions. Tell them what you like and what you don’t like. They can make something for you. They want you to have a good meal.”
Other non-sushi authentic standouts dot the hot and cold appetizer menu and include chawanmushi (hot egg custard served with shitake mushrooms, shrimp, spinach and gingko nut); nasu dengaku (grilled Japanese eggplant with house made sweet miso sauce, shaved bonito and sesame and horenso gomae (wilted spinach with roasted black sesame and shaved bonito).
Popular entree items include black cod (marinated in house-made saikyo miso sauce, broiled and served with enoki mushrooms) and seafood dynamite (bay scallops mixed with snow crab, asparagus, fresh shitake mushrooms and a creamy spicy sauce, broiled until golden). Flo also offers specialty seasonal dishes like tiger shrimp risotto.
Bellevue has grown up around Flo over the past decade, and the restaurant has seen its customer base evolve with the city. Steve sees plenty of new faces every day with out-of-towners traveling for work and business people brokering deals over a sushi power lunch. But Steve and Jia see repeat guests all the time. They know people by name. They’ve watched their customers’ kids — and their own — grow up at the sushi bar. Steve says in a perfect world, maybe they’d open a second location or a new restaurant. But for now, the couple seems quite content with the pace of things. “I like that this place is a true mom and pop. We want to keep it that way.”