Fascinated by food and the art of cuisine for as long as I can remember, I can’t recall when The Herbfarm first crossed my radar. I can tell you though that the many years ago when murmurs of it entered my world, I was resigned to experience it vicariously.
The hefty price let alone the travel to it were out of range for the average income earner trying to pay off a mortgage and build a retirement fund. The closest I came to getting to it before was when my husband suggested a trip there to celebrate my 50th birthday. In the end, we just couldn’t justify it then.
Fast forward to 2010 and we are now retired and while not rich, certainly more comfortable. A splurge now and again is manageable. So when Mark made the reservation for December 11 at The Herbfarm and I overheard him say we were celebrating my birthday, it took a minute to sink in to me that it wasn’t really a lie. We were just six years and about eight months late in doing it!
Located in Woodinville, Washington about half an hour north of Seattle, The Herbfarm has evolved from an herb farm selling chives in Fall City to a Pacific Northwest destination dining icon. From the movement you arrive at its threshold, you can see clearly it is a true labour of love for owners Ron Zimmerman and Carrie Van Dyck. Quite frankly, you have been forewarned that it’ll take about five hours to experience the nine-course dinner paired with six wines and you’ve coughed up a per person charge of $195 plus service and tax for a total of $510.50 so you expect there will need to be some strutting to accompany the courses.
Ron and Carrie have amassed a team that embody the simple belief “that no dish can be better than its ingredients” and respect the foods and wines of the region. A member of Slow Food (See slowfood.com for information.), The Herbfarm “believes that supporting local farmers, foragers, cheesemakers, wineries, and fishermen helps preserve local foods” and is keen to spread such gospel. The sermon for which our timing subscribed was “The Hunter’s Table” – its annual game menu.
As per its protocol, we were invited to arrive 30 minutes in advance for an introduction and garden tour. On the dank and dark December evening we went, the garden tour was an indoor, more oral version. It was suggested you could augment the indoor component between courses with a trip to meet and feed Borage and Basil, The Herbfarm’s potbellied pigs.
However, the warm and eclectic interior and approachable staff kept us well amused without having to venture out through the rainstorm. Besides I have fed potbelly pigs before and didn’t see that as an enhancement to my dining pleasure.
Greeted by Ron with a sparkling wine, we were encouraged to take it along as we checked out the wine cellar and the chef’s library, before we were summoned to the introduction. Carrie gave an historic overview, which you can check out on the website theherbfarm.com and provided a preview of the herbs that would season the menu. She lovingly described each herb, its qualities and passed out samples as a sensory accompaniment. I believe we learned about lavender, rosemary, tarragon, sage, bay leaf and rose geranium.
Then came the summons to the dining room where the culinary lessons truly unfolded. These folks don’t just walk the talk, they cook it and serve it! True to the tone of the other rooms, the eclectic décor of the dining room amused and entertained as did the guitar of Patricio Contreras of the Royal Conservatory, Madrid. A beautiful place setting complete with souvenir menus describing each course of The Hunter’s Table and birthday wishes in a silver frame adorned our table.
With the atmosphere set and anticipation in full throttle, wisely The Herbfarm team did not delay in getting out the first of the nine courses. Each course had a title in keeping with the hunter’s theme.
1. Dawn on the Duck Blind:
Parfait of Matsutake Mushroom & Grilled Duck Breast with Apple-Horseradish Froth.
Duck-Leg Rillette with Granny Smith Apple, Celery Leaf, and Hazelnut.
Pickled Crabapple Purée with Fennel, Endive, Duck Liver Mousse & Crispy Tongue.
Sparkling Wine: Capitello Oregon Brut with your choice of herbs.
In addition to its artistic eye appeal, this trio of first bites was the finest presentation of duck I have had and the Capitello Oregon Brut enhanced each morsel. We had been offered a choice of herb to add to our wine and my selection of rose geranium worked perfectly. Mark was also happy with his pineapple sage.
After calming the first wave of our hunger, Ron Zimmerman introduced all the staff present, noting that the bakers got to go home early. He shared the credentials of each member of the team, an endearing if protracted testament to The Herbfarm’s pride in the expertise it has attracted. Sommelier Tysan Dutta explained each of the six wine selections in concert with the chefs’ description of each course paired with them. The wine pairing was second to none and each truly complemented the flavours of the food and brought out the herb accents intended. As each course was presented, the server refreshed our memory on the key elements.
2. Rabbit, Run:
Terrine of Bernie Nash’s Ephrata Rabbit with Tarragon,
Melted Leeks, Marinated Turnip, Mustard, and Herbfarm Cornichons
Wine: 2007 AMaurice Cellars Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, Washington.
Who knew leeks could taste so good and brighten a plate so elegantly? And like the leeks, the terrine et al melted on my palate arousing a symphony of tastes.
3. Cauliflower & Cod:
Applewood-Smoked Alaskan Black Cod with Steelhead Roe, Beet Greens, Glazed Beets,
Caramelized Cauliflower, Potato Purée and Oregon Black Winter Truffles.
Wine: 2007 Poet‘s Leap Riesling, Cask Aged “Carmina Burana,” Columbia Valley.
Was it the sheer brilliance of this course that made the next two pale in comparison? I can’t say for sure, however, I can say it was the best bite of cod I have ever had and it was the first time in my life that I truly tasted truffles. I’ve eaten truffle before and didn’t quite get all the fuss over it. In my previous experiences, I just saw it as an overrated mushroom. This time I gained new appreciation.
Throughout the dinner Waitstaff shared anecdotes about the food whether it was in the preparation or the gathering. For this, Barry Cannon told us that truffles apparently remind “boy” pigs of females and that’s why they are so keen to seek them out and must be held at bay to keep them from gobbling them up. He explained further that’s why training dogs to find them tends to work out better because dogs could care less about the allure of female pigs. He then advised us that these truffles were foraged by Jeremy Faber without pigs or dogs. As he left the table, he turned back and deadpanned, “I’m not sure of Jeremy’s interest in female pigs.”
4. Don‘t Squabble:
Wood-Fired Rotisserie Squab Breast and Squab Leg Ragout,
With Soft-Cooked Steel-Cut Snohomish Oats, Savory Wild Mushroom Granola,
And a Winter Vegetable Nage
Wine: 2007 L‘Herbe Savage Pinot Noir, Ana Vineyard, Oregon.
Because it was served in a bowl with the sauce poured over it at the table in a flourish, I must have been distracted and failed to capture a record. Surprisingly, it was the granola and not the squab that offered the best bite of this course.
5. Deer Elk:
Juniper-Black Pepper Crusted Cross Anchor Ranch Oregon Elk
Over Creamed Brussels Sprouts,
Ankeny Lake Oregon Wild Rice with Venison Sausage, Caramelized Chestnuts,
And Black Pepper-Wild Huckleberry Sauce
Wine: 2005 Tranche Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley.
While the black pepper-huckleberry reduction and chestnuts had a lovely intensity, this dish disappointed. Neither the venison or elk measured up to renditions I have had in the past at such restaurants as the River Café in Calgary or The Post Hotel in Lake Louise.
6. Foie & Pumpkin Pie:
Seared Foie Gras on Sugar Pie Pumpkin Pie
With Pickled Pumpkin, Squash Ribbons, and a Foie Gras-Ice Wine Vinegar Drizzle.
The chef related that he had never really enjoyed the traditional Thanksgiving pumpkin pie and had experimented to create a more savoury version that could be part of a main course. His creation was genius. It perfectly complemented the foie gras and squash ribbons. I would return for this dish alone!
7. Cranberry Verbena:
Lemon Verbena & Verjus Panna Cotta
With a Gelée of Hand-Harvested Grayland Coastal Bog Cranberries.
This delicate offering served as a palate cleanser and a dessert rolled into one.
8. Rosemary‘s Pears:
Rosemary and Caramel Mousse with Crispy Streusel,
Roasted Pear, Warm Caramelized Pear Purée & Bacon-Caramel Sauce.
By this time our ability to keep eating was waning. Still the expertly prepared dish disappeared from our plates in a couple bites.
9. Coffees, Teas & Native Beverages:
A Selection of Autumn Flavors
Wine: 2008 Dunham Cellars Late-Harvest Riesling.
These wonderful little morsels were tucked aside for take away. Each provided a delightful enhancement to our morning coffee.
The Herbfarm was a wonderful gastronomic adventure and while not all courses stood up to the hype, like so many things I have had on my bucket list, having once experienced it, I could go back for more! I have read online complaints about the excessive explanations of the menu and the constant flogging of The Herbfarm merchandise. I can’t dispute that, however, I can say that The Herbfarm passion is real and I truly respect the attention to detail and pride in the work. Farm fresh to table is taken seriously in this quirky and unique establishment. If selling some high quality herbal lotion or cute stuffed pigs keeps them in business, I’m all for it!
Happy Belated Birthday me!