Over Memorial Day Weekend 2021 I visited Seattle for the first time, as in finally stepping outside the airport. I lucked out in the 5 days that I was there, sunny clear, occasionally overcast days, contrary to the stereotype rainy and gloomy weather expected of the region. Over all, I found downtown Seattle to be just ok, highlights really being Pike Place Market swarming with tourists and long lines given ongoing COVID protocols, but the food here really is quite good and multi-cultural and full of soul. The Museum of Flight at Boeing field is for me another key highlight. Otherwise I discovered I enjoyed bits and pieces outside of downtown and am keen to return to explore more of the Pacific Northwest islands, bays, and mountains.
The AAA 5 Diamond destination farm-to-table restaurant, The Herbfarm, in Woodinville, Washington is worth your time and the slightly steeper pricetag for the 9+ course dinner with beverage pairing. The food is fantastic and on par with any of the top restaurants in the country and even the world. Service, some of the best I have had the pleasure to experience in the United States. All in a quaint and provincially charming setting. I would actually return to this place in a heartbeat.
Originally, my friends and I had planned to spend part of the weekend 3.5 hours north of Seattle on Lummi Island to dine and stay at Willows Inn. However, in April, a NY Times Expose revealed some dark truths about the Willows Inn restaurant and inn and we opted to cancel those plans. In searching for potential other options, we came across Willows Lodge in Woodinville, just 30 minutes outside Seattle, and through our research of things to do nearby we came across The Herbfarm restaurant.
The Herbfarm restaurant is almost like a Blue Hill at Stone Barns, minus a truly extensive farm on the property itself, though they still do forage some things from the onsite farm. It is a AAA 5 Diamond restaurant and is by now considered historic and significant in putting the Pacific Northwest and Seattle on the culinary map, along with Seattle’s Canlis.
The pictures of the interior concerned us, we were worried it would be overly gaudy and tacky, turns out it was perfectly provincial and warm, right out of a fairytale. But we were excited for the constantly rotating seasonal themed menus and the reviews and articles of the place were all quite positive and even the website makes an effort to educate everyone on the true and sustainable local farm to table operation they have.
One problem, when booking a month out, it was already fully booked. Further, our stay at Willows Lodge was on Monday, Memorial Day, and the Herbfarm is only open Wednesday-Sunday.
Bookings are easy, the website lists all available menus and corresponding dates as well as per person price (exclusive of tax and service). If the date is full, you can opt to join the waitlist. Click on your desired date and menu, select party size and you’ll be directed to create an account. From there fill in your contact information and the restaurant will be in touch with you shortly by phone. The great thing is that the website and booking process is extremely informative and transparent. It is a $50/person deposit, that goes towards your final bill. You can cancel up to the Monday prior to your reservation. On the day of, your card is then charged the full bill including taxes and gratuities. After dinner, any supplements will be charged accordingly, you do not need to sign or whip out your card at all during your time at the restaurant. Each menu is about 9+ courses, your meal comes with a beverage pairing of either wine, beer or non-alcoholic beverages. Wed-Sat there is one seating at 7PM, and on Sundays it is at 4:30PM. The season’s menu was “Salmon Nation,” celebrating the Salmon of the region, every dish except for desserts used one or more component of the entire salmon fish.
As mentioned, the our stay at the lodge didnt correspond to Herbfarm operational times but we still tried to book. The system seemingly indicated a party of 3 had availability, but when I called to confirm before fully submitting the form online, they informed me they were fully booked, and capacity was lower given COVID restrictions. Nonetheless they kindly put me on the waitlist for both Saturday and Sunday, and said we were #1 for both days and likely would get off as the region reopened. By the time I landed in Seattle on the Friday, still had no news and by that point was giving up / had already made alternative dinner arrangements. Well as luck would have it, as we were scarfing down food at Pike Place Market for Saturday lunch, I received a call from the restaurant informing me that they had an opening and that we could get off the waitlist for that same evening. After checking with my friends as to who was still in and not, I called back, confirmed with my credit card and they still went through clarifying the deposit policies and final bill and which of the 3 kinds of beverage pairings we’d each like. They also asked for every member of the party’s full name, if we were celebrating any occasion, we just said friendship and that it was our 10 year high school reunion (important for a detail later), I then confirmed the dress code which they said was sophisticated casual, men no shorts allowed, just dont show up in gym wear or sneakers. I would say its definitely more business casual and up to fit the setting and vibes. As we found out and researched, ubers and lyfts are easily available to get at the restaurant at the end of the night at 11PM, or the restaurant happily arranged town cars for you as well, ideally you’d be staying next door at Willows Lodge or even better, one of 2 upstairs suites in the restaurant.
Shortly after I received a confirmation email detailing the evening, cancel policy and once again the charges being made to my card. $50/person deposit, $305/person dinner, for a total dinner for 3 being $1217.85, including all taxes and fees and gratuities, so around $405/person, excluding supplemental items ordered during dinner. Certainly a tad steep, even for a 9+ course dinner with beverage included, but between the actually delicious food, the wonderful wines and above and beyond service and attention to detail, I find it was very worth it.
We opted to uber/lyft there and back, it was around $50-$60 each way, which if you are 2 or more people, is not bad when you split the fare. Both trips took around 25-30 minutes without traffic. They also recommend you arrive 15-30 minutes early if you’d like to enjoy a welcome beverage and small bite to eat on restaurant grounds.
We hopped out of our lyft at around 6:40PM for our 7PM dinner. There was a staff member organizing something in the Garden but she immediately greeted us and asked for party name, upon hearing my name she said she was glad we were able to get off the waitlist. We were pleasantly surprised at this level of attention and detail. She walked us to the door and handed us off to her colleagues. They knew every detail about our booking including the aforementioned occasion we were celebrating. Jackets and bags were offered to be checked. We had the choice of taking our beverage and snack indoors in one of the salons or outdoors. It was a beautifully sunny day so we sat outside by the small fountains in their courtyard adjacent to the lodge’s own restaurant, The Barking Frog, which by the way is only mediocre. They even had a place card with my name on it to put on our outdoor table. After this, at around 6:55PM, they came back out and asked if we were ready to be seated. Once again they checked if we wanted to check our bags or jackets before leading us into the main dining room.
The main dining room is very decorated and the pictures make it seem a wee overwhelming and tacky but in person it really is quite provincial, homey and simply works with the theme, philosophy and atmosphere of the restaurant. Its a mix of feeling like you are in a fairytale setting where talking animals have helped you forage your meal and like grandma’s kitchen. We were seated, and it would appear a party of 4-6 had cancelled as we were seated at a rather large table. There was a Spanish guitar player playing ambient music. There is a fully open kitchen for you to see all the action. One our table was the menu, napkin, a facemask stand to hang your facemasks, hand sanitizer, and a framed little illustration with “Happy 10 years of friendship” along with our first names, the attention to detail and quick turnaround!
Still or Sparkling water orders were taken along with an explanation of the menu, and they confirmed who was having what beverage pairing by first name as well, again thoroughly impressed with the attention to detail and service. There is no one truly dedicated person to your party. The chef, wait staff, sommelier all rotate and serve every table. Wine is served and poured by a few folks as well, all equally knowledgable on the wines. Every person was equally friendly, engaging, genuine and down to earth, professional, passionate and knowledgable. It was consistent service even when it was not one dedicated person to your table, also quite well paced. Further, a few of the wines were so good and I finished so quickly and excitedly told them how I enjoyed it, they offered to pour more. No request was too much, and they seemed to always say yes. By the way if none of the wines in the pairing or even upgraded pairings suit your taste you are welcome to ask to see their extensive wine list and order from there, there is a massive wine cellar on the way to the restroom and it was very impressive.
After your first course and wine is served the restaurant does something I have never seen or experienced before. While the incredible bread interlude is served, the chef and Sommelier come out, they curtain off the open kitchen and the two of them walk through the entire menu and wine pairings of the evening. Explaining the ingredients, the source farm and the farm’s approach, why the ingredients are being used and how the dish is being prepared and what the intention is (ie: why is this being used and paired, and how this flavor is being created…etc.). Wine was explained by ways of the winemaker’s approach, the tasting profile and why it was chosen to pair with the intended dish. It was also explained that you could upgrade your pairing to global wines, the main pairing is all Washington State wines, as well as choose a supplemental dessert wine to pair with the cheese dish. Afterwards, the invite out the entire kitchen and wait staff and introduce them and thank all diners and wish everyone a wonderful evening.
The rest of the evening was your usual. Wines came, and poured. Dishes served, presented and explained. Supplemental items ordered. Oh, and for dessert you get to choose from a very interesting list of coffees, local herbal / root teas, and the biggest highlight of them all, the hot malted drinking caramel that is to die for. Some of these beverages are also at a supplement (ex: caramel/ Geisha coffee).
By 11PM you are stuffed, drunk and very happy and satisfied. Each diner received a departing gift, this evening it was a Rhubarb White Chocolate Muffin, perfect for the following day’s breakfast.
2016 Castillo de Feliciana Brillante Brut, Columbia Valley, Washington, a Sparkling Albarino wine
Circle of Salmon, salmon and leek “Quiche”, egg-yolk puddnig, nootka rose petals, stitka spruce tips.
The contrast of the Salmon sashimi and the cooked salmon was interesting in a good way
Rosemary Brioche, Herbfarm Renan Wheat Sourdough, house-cultured and churned butter with chives and Steelhead roe (this needs to replace salt in every butter in the world). The butter with salmon roe was a beautiful combination and the rosemary in the airy bricohe was subtle but aromatic. Simple amazing, I was blown away.
2019 Piolet Vintners Columbia Valley, Sauvignon Blanc, fantastic full bodied sav blanc, not too acidic or sweet
One of my favorite dishes of the night
Garden Interlude: Spring Vegetables, Mint Tarragon, Spicy Cured-Salmon Vinaigrette, with almond and radish and cauliflower and mushrooms as some of the main veggies. So textured, balanced, subtle and complex. I told the Chef it reminded me of some things i had at Noma
One of the best Chardonnays I have had: 2014 Ken Wright Celilo Chardonnay, Columbia Valley. Full expression of the Chardonnay grape but relatively short time in oak allows it to have subtle oak and mild butter but not overwhelming
Spring Rabbit: Valley Farmstead Rabbit, spring garlic (garlic before it turns into garlic cloves, used in the cream sauce), lemony herbs (herbs to create citrus flavors without using any lemon), intertidal sea beans. Also delicious the garlic was aromatic but not overpowering. and Rabbit tender and not gamey
2016 Ponzi Vineyards Dolcetto, Chehalm Mountains. apparently the winemaker stole grapes from Italian vineyard on a visit and just planted them in the U.S.
Shrooms: In From the Wild: Wood- Roasted Spring Morel Mushrooms, Breafkast Radishes, Flowering Balsam Thyme, Crispy Salmon Skin, this one was a bit too salty. Nice textures in this dish, but the salt unfortunately overwhelmed
2018 Avennia “Justine” Southern-Rhone blend, Yakima Valley
Behold the King: Hazlenut-Smoked Quillayute King Salmon, Herbfarm lardo, marjoram lovage, smoked salmon-head boullion (sauce made from stewing the salmon head)
Cheese & Bees: Housemade Camembert Cheese, summary savory cracker, acacia honey, wild-gathered spring greens, whiskey-lemon verbena dressing
Cheese plate supplemental pairing choice: the 2001 Chateau d’Yquem (dee-kem), fantastic dessert wine from France
Sweet ‘N’ Sour:
“Shahalie” Sorbert, Candied Angelica, Gin “ice”
Riches in Dark: Chocolate Mint Sorbet, Bay Leaf Caramel, Hazlenut Praline, Dandelion Cake
paired with 2015 Martedi Winery Vin Santo, Washington State, they served it poured so didnt get a shot of the bottle
Dandelion Root Brew, looks dark and bitter, was dark but not bitter, it was smooth and earthy
This malted drinking caramel was to die for. Sweet but surprisingly not overwhelmingly so. We couldnt stop drinking.
Pate de Fruit made with D’Oliviera 1986 Verdelho
A pour of the 1986 Verdelho Madeira to go with the Pate de fruit, limited time offer to celebrate their 35th Anniversary
Herbfarm Rhubarb-white chocolate muffin
What a fun, memorable and delectable evening. I would return again to try the other seasonal menus the rotate through. The service and attention to detail here really blew me away for a restaurant that seemingly isnt all that hyped about outside of Washington State. A small handful of minor misses in the food, but overall superb. As I mentioned some even took me back to my dinner at Noma in 2016. I was impressed that salmon was utilized in various parts throughout the evening, from actual piece of salmon/ roe/ skin to using it in sauces and flavorings, really showcases the range and use of the entire fish. All wines were fantastic and a great showcase of the quality produced in Washington State wine producers. And the ambiance, you truly are transported to either Europe or a fairytale for the evening, adding that small extra dose of magic. Again, a tad steep for the final per person pricetag if you ask me, but it does include the beverages and service, nonetheless for the over all experience, I say worth it, and its super close to downtown Seattle, if not stay at the Willows Lodge and make it a full getaway.