I’ll say it straight away: Dinner at The Herbfarm is unforgettable. More than just a meal, their nine-course dinners are an invitation to celebrate, learn, and converse about the diverse culinary offerings of the Pacific Northwest.
The Herbfarm was established as an herbal nursery in 1974 and expanded to include a restaurant in 1986. As an early adopter of the slow food philosophy, this restaurant quickly became one of the country’s most celebrated dining institutions. The accolades are dizzying: The Herbfarm has been named as National Geographic’s #1 Destination Restaurant in the World, one of Zagat’s top 10 restaurants in America, and is one of just 50 AAA 5-Diamond Award-winning restaurants.
Pair all this praise with a nine-course, fixed-price menu and it’s understandable to feel intimidated– especially for those of us who are used to Whatcom and Skagit’s laid-back restaurant scene. Our dining experience, however, was far more convivial than stuffy.
The Herbfarm is located in a cozy cottage that feels transported from the English countryside. Carefully curated art adorns the walls, and diners are also treated to live music as they enjoy their meal. Given this intimate atmosphere (and limited seating), it’s understandable that dinners book out months in advance.
My partner and I arrived at 4 p.m. for a welcome drink and appetizer in the cottage’s foyer. Half an hour later, we were ushered into the dining room and served glasses of 2013 La Cadeau Sparkling Rosé by Ryan Aguirre, head of beverage and service. It was here that the real treat began: An extensive walk-through of the evening’s menu by Aguirre and Chef Chris Weber, who is renowned for his knowledge of indigenous ingredients.
Velvet curtains to the exhibition kitchen were drawn shut, and the two experts gave an in-depth presentation about the menu, its ingredients, and its inspirations. Menus at The Herbfarm change with the season, and on the night we attended, the theme was “The Holly and the Ivy.” Weber spoke eloquently about designing the menu to evoke thoughts of holiday traditions, friendship, and togetherness.
Every item on the menu is curated to fit the night’s theme, and better yet, each ingredient has a story. In a standout example, our second course (entitled “Mr. Malley Comes Ashore”) consisted of St. Jude albacore tuna tartare prepared with crispy oyster, leek fondue, pickled seabean, and warm potato mousse. Weber explained how, until the ‘70s, most of our region’s tuna went to canneries. Joe Malley of St. Jude Tuna realized the potential of the fish and pioneered the process needed to serve it sashimi-style.
As dinner continued, I was pleased to find that the nine dishes were satisfying without being overly heavy– and I cleaned my plate at each course. The menu was also unfailingly imaginative; for example, the third course (“Chicken Dance”) featured Bernie Nash’s poulet bleu prepared four ways. This included a sage terrine, a consomme, and even in an unexpectedly delightful pairing with caviar.
Another favorite course was the “Fodder and Forest,” which consisted of thinly-sliced beets placed atop a bed of trumpet mushrooms and topped with a fennel sabayon (an Italian-style custard). I am allergic to eggs, but rather than omitting the sabayon, Weber prepared an alternative sauce that incorporated foie gras for richness. This touch exemplified The Herbfarm’s willingness to go above and beyond for their clientele.
The menu is accompanied by six drink pairings, and diners can choose between wine, beer, or non-alcoholic options. Standouts included the 2015 Brickhouse Cascadia Chardonnay, which was surprisingly fruit-forward thanks to the use of a French fermentation technique called battonage. I also enjoyed the 2015 A’Maurice Night Owl, a full-bodied red which came paired with the most tender cut of steak I’ve ever had. In addition, Aguirre offers alternate wine pairings plus a selection of bottles from the Herbfarm’s cellar (including a Madeira from 1795).
The search for “freshness in different places” was another theme for the night’s menu. Since The Herbfarm’s garden is largely dormant in the winter, Weber utilized several non-traditional regional ingredients including magnolia (used in ice cream) and Douglas fir (featured in another dessert course with vacherin and Asian pear).
The night came to its conclusion half past 8 p.m. with a rich apple tart and choice of warm beverage. I ordered a tea made from madrone bark, and while serving it, Aguirre noted that the drink is a long-running tradition among Coast Salish tribes.
These bits of backstory, banter, and Pacific Northwestern culinary history made the night truly extraordinary. Not only was the meal delectable, but it also deepened my appreciation for the bounty of our region. Dinner at The Herbfarm is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I’d travel across America for– but luckily I don’t have to, because it’s located in our own backyard. 14590 N.E. 145th St., Woodinville, 425.485.5300, theherbfarm.com