Growing up as a food fan in Seattle, the Herbfarm is a restaurant spoken about in reverent, aspirational tones. At least for me, it was always the topic of a future, dreamed for celebratory event. When you graduate from college, we should celebrate at the Herbfarm. When you get that promotion, when so and so special person comes to town, when I turn 30 … so many of life’s moments came and went without gracing the Herbfarm’s doors.
There was some comfort in knowing it was out there, and would always comfortably be. It was the place to celebrate SOMETHING BIG. But what?
Suddenly, one day I’d had enough. I really just wanted to check it off my food bucket list. And I had a brilliant idea. My food loving, chef-in-training husband’s birthday just happened to coincide with a menu I thought worth exploring. (For those of you who don’t know, the Herbfarm rotates their menu seasonally – about every 2-4 weeks.) So taking him would be a thoughtful, magnanimous, generous celebration of his life! And my enjoyment was just a side benefit! (Don’t worry, it didn’t fool him either.)
As the food movement is continuing to explore concepts around sustainability, access to fresh ingredients, farm (or yard or garden) to table, or whatever that means to you, the Herbfarm stands as a reminder that this is how we used to eat.
Family owned, now by the second generation, the Herbfarm is an old-school dining experience. And it is an experience. The meal starts with a wine cellar self-guided tour if you like. (The Herbfarm boasts the largest collection of Washington wines in the world.) Following the wine cellar tour (and for our meal, an absolutely delicious lilac punch and fried maple blossom snack), you can join owner Carrie on a tour of the garden.
The Herbfarm famously sources many of their vegetables and herbs from their own garden (hence the name!), which is a compact workhorse for the restaurant. The garden tour introduced many of us to common herbs or Northwest plants that are edible. I was initially very excited to see lamb’s ear amongst the plants (I have that! What can I eat it with?) but when I asked how it was used/prepared, she told me it was historically used monthly by women.
The best thing I learned in that garden tour was something that amazes and delights me to this day. I learned that you can eat the petal of a tulip. And it’s absolutely fresh, light and delicious. I puzzled many people at work in my Monday morning meeting by promptly taking a bite out of the flower arrangement at the table – my new party/work trick! I can imagine lots of uses for a lovely tulip – in salads, desserts. The Herbfarm used them in this night with a pave of halibut and turnip.
To me there are at least two classes of dining – those of you who travel to food destinations know what I mean. Michelin starred restaurants. Those restaurants that have achieved a coveted star (or more) are a class above the rest. I’ve spent quite a bit of time discussing with friends if Michelin came to Seattle, would any of our restaurants deserve a star. I’m still not sure (with the exception of Willows Inn on Lummi island, which is worth the drive any day). But the Herbfarm is almost there, with a service and experience unmatched in Seattle.
The restaurant itself feels like a trip to Grandma’s house. But much fancier and without the green bean casserole. Tweet This
The restaurant itself feels like a trip to Grandma’s house. But much fancier and without the green bean casserole. It’s a little old fashioned and very cozy. The hosts are very unpretentious and welcoming and the hostess was even wearing a long gown that swept the floor and made me think of a Victorian Country Christmas.
For me, three highlights stand out:
- The subject of this meal was Spring Forager and we were the first evening they had prepared the menu. My favorite part of the meal was hearing the chef and wine somm explain the thoughtful way they approached the menu’s theme and what it meant to them as they prepared the menu and wine pairings.
- To me, the best course was the first. In homage to the amazing food and cooking inspiration of the Pacific NW Native American, they prepared bannock bread with devil’s club, smoked spring salmon, charred asparagus puree, sumac jam, pickled fiddlehead ferns (the spring passion of every Seattleite), and wild greens. It was divine.
- Some of the extra wines you could add to your experience were truly one of a kind. They featured a 1946 Pedro Ximenez that was like a rich, raisiny kiss. There was also a 2001 Chateau d’Yquem, the world’s greatest Sauternes, and a 1795 Madeira, which is the oldest wine being served by the glass anywhere in the world.
Some courses stumbled a little – overall, it felt like the dishes needed a few more weeks of test run and tweaking to be truly amazing. But that is the beauty of a seasonal, rotating menu. And next time I’ll go later in the cycle.
I’m excited to try another menu again. I think my husband might be on to the birthday trick, but there’s always something in life to be celebrated.
Also – you can eat tulips!! Who knew?