June 11, 2001
Reestablished Herbfarm continues to work its culinary magic
by Deborah Stone
My dinner at the Herbfarm begins with a fresh sprig of lemon verbena in a champagne flute filled with 1997 St. Innocent Blanc De Noir, accompanied by savory potato-rosemary and melt-in-your-mouth yeasted corn rolls with chive blossom butter.
Nine courses and five hours later, it ends with a selection of chocolate-mint truffles, miniature s-mores, lemon-lavender meringue tarts and other delightful treats, paired with a beautiful vintage 1916 Barbeito Malvasia Madeira.
What comes in between is a parade of uniquely prepared dishes imbued with the essences of herbs to create a perfect balance of delicate flavors, matched to thoughtfully chosen premium Northwest wines. Dining at the Herbfarm is a feast for the senses and should rightfully occupy its own place in the "most memorable restaurant experience" category.
Newly located in Woodinville on the grounds of Willows Lodge (since the fire of its original Fall City facility in 1997, the restaurant had been operating out of Hedges Cellars in Issaquah, until May of this year), the Herbfarm opened its doors to continue its time honored tradition of offering guests a showcase of culinary glories, served with grace and charm in a setting of comfort and elegance. The 6,000 square-foot building is reminiscent of a French cottage or farmhouse, aged for effect.
Herbfarm co-owner Carrie Van Dyck says, "We wanted to create a place that felt like it had been around for years; comfortable, lived in, yet well cared for without a designer feel to it. We all love it here and our guests really like the feel of the building. The response has been overwhelmingly positive."
Surrounding the property is the garden, filled with bed after bed of neatly planted herbs with varied inspirations. Van Dyck offers a pre-dinner tour of the garden, taking guests on paths carpeted with brown hazelnut shells, pointing out the different plants that give rise to the most wonderful outdoor perfumes.
Stepping inside the restaurant, there is an immediate feeling of warmth coming from the cozy fireplace in the tastefully decorated reception area. Off to the side is the private dining room, almost Victorian in its décor, for hosting small parties and meeting groups.
The main dining room, which seats 60, is elegantly done in rich wine tones and each table is in fancy dress set with fine porcelain, crystal and flowers.
Whimsical placecard holders and little lantern candelabras join a forest of gleaming stemware and flatware, casting an expectant glow to the room. The wistful notes of a Spanish guitar further the romance of the scene.
The kitchen, gleaming with appliances of every sort, is open to the intimate dining room, allowing guests to watch talented and award-winning chef Jerry Traunfeld and his staff prepare their magic.
Part of the Herbfarm experience is an educational discourse (given by owners Ron Zimmerman and his wife Carrie Van Dyck, as well as chef Traunfeld) on the evening's meal and the accompanying wines, along with introductions of the staff and a short history of the restaurant's roots (its growth from a tiny herb farm into a renowned regional restaurant).
Meals are based on themes, which change every week or two to emphasize seasonal specialties using the freshest Pacific Northwest ingredients available.
That night, I dined on "Chambers of the Sea," which began with a trio of appetizers, including a tiny flaky Montana paddlefish caviar tart, a lighter-than-air sea urchin soufflé and small bites of delicate young abalone with shaved asparagus served in a shell with a daub of fresh Oregon wasabi.
This was followed by a creamy geoduck and lovage chowder dressed with nettle quenelles. In succession came spring herb black cod with sweet golden beets and Mediterranean mussels with fiddleheads in a farro risotto (a combination of tastes and textures to make one positively swoon!).
Diners then cleansed their palates with a refreshing May wine sorbet, setting the stage for the main course of slow-roasted succulent king salmon on dill in a woodsy morel and Pinot Noir sauce, accompanied by crisp lavender potatoes and perfectly grilled asparagus. A thin slice of foie gras set on toasted brioche with spiced prunes and cress followed, dazzling further with its explosion of flavors.
The seduction for me was complete long before dessert came in the form of rose geranium Bavarian cream and apricot basil mousse with Angelica-poached rhubarb.
The Herbfarm is more than a restaurant; it's theater, artistically designed and created to provide a unique experience for culinary adventurers. I had begun my evening filled with great anticipation of the evening's meal and I concluded it in a state of sensory bliss and culinary ecstasy.
The Herbfarm is definitely alive and well in its new locale, performing its magic to enraptured guests Friday through Sunday evenings.
For reservation information call (206) 784-2222 (be forewarned - reservations in paradise are tough to get!).