The Herbfarm Restaurant: A Gift of the Earth

Edible herbs and flowers from the garden

My cheeks were flushed. My head swirled in wine-induced hyperreality. I raised the silver goblet of water to my lips to help dilute the copious amounts of wine that were now coursing through my veins. The sixth dish of the night arrived, “Young Milk Lamb”, with luscious and delicate slices of suckling lamb contrasting with a firm and juicy medallion of pastured lamb. They were nestled in a lime green whip of shallot mashed potatoes and punctuated by a spiraled fiddlehead fern, which I had seen at the market earlier that morning. The lamb had been sourced from a farm nearby. “This is the perfect example of sustainability,” said Chris Weber, the 25-year-old chef that headed the kitchen at the HerbFarm restaurant in Woodinville, Washington.

On a recent overcast evening, we found ourselves thousands of miles away from the electricity of New York City in the Pacific Northwest, surrounded by quiet stretches of green, lush mountains and puffy gray clouds that hovered menacingly above. We had arrived in Seattle two days before and driven East towards Washington’s wine country, oblivious to what awaited us and what would define an exquisite culinary experience. That night, we would partake in the restaurant’s annual Spring celebration honoring the wild and foraged foods of “Salmon Nation”, including a nine-course tasting menu paired with wines from California, Oregon and Washington.

The beginning of our 9-course meal

We arrived four hours before the lamb course to get a glimpse of the restaurant’s vast herb garden, which supplies many of the flavors of the meals prepared in the restaurant. After warming up with a steamy cup of rhubarb and Douglas fir tea, we walked out into the garden for the Garden Tour to taste and learn about some of the herbs that would make their formal appearance later that night. We bit into a bright pink petal from an edible tulip: it was surprisingly crisp! We teared off a piece of wood sorrel and swirled it in our mouths: it had a sharp, citrus bite. Earthy thyme was next, then pungent Douglas fir. Next to the garden was a small sty home to two potbellied pigs, Basil and Borage, that our tour guide Carrie fed with miniature carrots. Later that night, guests would return with a feeding kits to visit the pigs.

Fiddlehead ferns from the market

After walking by the fireplace and all the whimsical knick-knacks that gave the restaurant the air of a New England inn, we made our way into the main dining hall where we were seated among the candlelight. The owners Carrie Van Dyck and Ron Zimmerman welcomed their guests warmly, introducing each of the members of the team, including the chef, sous chef and sommelier. That night, it was all about the details: the tiny name cards, a wild flower tucked into the napkin, the gentle sounds of guitar music, the glimmering crystal. The chef and sommelier then prepared us for the journey we were about to embark. They described each of the courses of the night, explaining how the ingredients were sourced, highlighting particular flavor profiles we should look for, and how each individual wine would enhance each dish.

We started the meal with three amuse-bouches, a dish called “From the Edge of the Sea”, and a feast of textures paid homage to local marine life. A silky morsel of albacore tuna on a crunchy seaweed cracker topped with a nasturtium petal: creamy geoduck in briny nori seaweed sauce: warm velvety prawn soup with roe and chives. Alone, this dish would have had me at “hello”, but it was the pairing that made it sublime: a sparkling wine spritzer touched with peppery notes of Japanese prickly ash and a citrusy lime-infused sake.

Each and every course that followed was prepared with intelligence, love, passion, respect. There was the “Morel Support”, which showcased a delicate piece of wild halibut that had been seared in the restaurant’s wood burning oven. The white flesh was smooth and sweet, sitting on a bed of toasted caraway crumbs, with meaty morel mushrooms crowning the dish. The wood sorrel we had tasted earlier in the garden reappeared as the palate cleanser in an emerald sorbet topped with a lemon geranium gel. While the Douglas fir came back with a wild juniper berry dust, as a tangy component to local sheepsmilk cheese drizzled with the restaurant’s own farm honey.

It’s hard to forget some of the other unique moments of the meal, like the poached Hama Hama oyster on a vibrant stinging nettle sauce (course #2) and Madrone tree bark in the caramel Bavarian (course #8). Yet, the most unique part of the evening was how it made us feel. We were guests, but were participants too, priviledged to partake in the ideation, foraging, preparation and tasting of this meal. A meal served with both transparency and heart, that took us to a time and place where life is cherished, and food is an integral source of it.

4 Responses to The Herbfarm Restaurant: A Gift of the Earth

  1. Jessica says:

    Well, what can I say? Firs of all I’m jealous. This seems taken out of Willy Wonka book, a different kind of Wonka though; one with a vast farm and luscious garden. I wonder if he’s looking for a taller version of an Oompa Loompa to do the tasting next time there’s some action in that kitchen.

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