A birthday meal at the Herbfarm
Posted by joeabbott on December 24, 2012
A few years back my mother was out for a vacation and she and Suzanne went to a restaurant called The Herbfarm. It sounded like a wonderful meal and, even more, a very fun experience. While I’m less of a foodie than most (I eat too quickly, snack too much, and find many simple foods just delicious), Suzanne wanted me to experience a meal there and so we settled on my birthday week (Week of Joe) as our chance.
We did, it was, and I’m sharing a bit about that meal here. The “we did” referred to the meal we had on 11/17 at The Herbfarm; the “it was” refers to the fact that it was a wonderful experience; and so let’s get on with talking about the experience … of which, the meal was just one component.
We arrived at the Herbfarm while it was dark and a bit rainy; the streets in the part of “town” they’re located in have poor lighting and there’s not much traffic. Still, as a destination location, along with wineries, stables, and other manner of upscale places, we didn’t have difficulty … just more darkness than the average city boy is used to. Upon entering The Herbfarm foyer we were offered an apple cider with an infusion of rosemary to ward off the chill. Our jackets were taken along with our names and we were given a rough lay of the land and allowed to explore.
The Herbfarm used to be located at a farm until it burned down some fifteen years ago; they resettled in their current location in Woodinville, WA and have been serving up wonderful meals since. But, if you’re really interested in their history, you can read more here.
I touched on their history only because their current business feels like it has more history than it should for a 15 year old place. Meaning, the fireplace is from an Italian villa, bookcases look old and are filled with leathery tomes, and the wine cellar contains an exceptionally large selection of aged vintages. We enjoyed sipping our cider and then made a late effort to see the library: a room dedicated to cook books (hundreds of them). Alas, the room was rather full of folks looking for an out-of-the-way place to chit chat and Suzy wasn’t able to put her time there to industrious use. Instead we enjoyed the view overlooking the dining area and bided a little time before the meal.
Shortly, we were summoned to the lobby area where all diners listened to the owner give us a small lesson on the history of the Herbfarm, the philosophy guiding how they run the restaurant, a brief primer on Pacific NW herbs (in which various leaves were passed to the diners for examination), and then … and then to the dining room!
After a small tour of the room at large (I believe the hostess forgot where we were assigned to sit … yes, assigned seating: including a small frame commemorating the occasion of our visit), we got to our seats and had a chance to meet the other guests.
At the time, I had memorized their names: few better ways to break the ice and enjoy a social time than to be able to call someone by their name. We were at a rectangular table for eight: I was on an end with Suzy next to me, the couple completing “our side” next to Suzy were an older duo; across from us was a louder, energetic couple (made for a fun evening) and next to them was another couple about our age. It was a merry table and made for a wonderful evening as we dove into our nine course meal.
Our meal had a theme, which was one of the main attractions for me, and it was called Uber Tuber: A Celebration of the Amazing Spud. I enjoy potatoes in all forms, save potato salad … which I deem to be a vehicle purely for the ingestion of mayonnaise (which I don’t mind but … seriously? slather cooked potato chunks in a mayo sauce? eeew). And The Herbfarm did not disappoint in finding new and interesting ways to treat us to a bit of potato.
At the start of the meal our chef, the very young Chris Weber, introduced the menu but, he went through all 9 courses at the same time, paused only by the sommelier, Joey Lapaka, who introduced the pairing wines. As a teetotaler, I cared less about the wine, and as someone with a weak memory at best, the 9 menu items left an ephemeral impression on me at best. However, throughout the meal I’d say things like, “ooo, is this the item with smoked potato butter” … to which Suzanne would normally respond, “you’re thinking of the rabbit … this is the lemon thyme scallops”. Alas … ‘A’ for effort …
The first thing we were served was a drink that had been infused with a potato flavor. You had a choice of “baked potato” or something else … maybe “steamed potatoes”? Clearly I got the baked spuds! It was a light drink that had a strong overtone of potatoes but not in a funky or bad way. And, curiously, like the cider with rosemary, it was a nice little beverage.
The first entrée was the Triptych of Tubers, and this was the strangest offering. The Vichyssoise was, of course, cold potato soup that was excellent, but I’ll be honest: I like my soup warm, if not hot. Still, tasty. Then the potato Risotto … tiny, diced potato with great texture but combined with sea urchin eggs. I really liked the risotto but the sea urchin eggs were just darned odd and a bit hard to eat. Raising chickens, I eat a lot of eggs … but not a lot of eggs from sea creatures! Finally, the very weird potato Canneloni: when you bit into it, it crunched not unlike a pickle. Again, not bad but very weird and it took a bit to finish this off. But I did!
Next was Scallop & Spud which was very much my favorite. Another very honest admission here: I have no clue what the potato tasted like here … those scallops were AMAZING. And, as Suzy isn’t a big sea food fan, I got one of hers! YES! This was very much a table favorite and I kept trying to think of angles I could use to try and get another one or two scallop out of the kitchen. But it was not to be.
And so we moved onto one of the more looked-for items on the menu: Bunny Wellington. Which is like Beef Wellington, except with rabbit.
I was looking forward to it because I was curious about eating rabbit … not a staple at our home and I will admit to a small amount of trepidation. Others at the table were looking forward to it as well, either because it was as close to a “main course” as we were likely to get or for other reasons of their own. And when it came, we were all delighted.
“Wellington” is a meat coated with a pâté wrapped in a pasty; from the menu above you can read how ours was prepared but my plate was spotless when they took it away. That was one delicious dish; the “smoked potato butter” was a sublime sauce ladled over your Wellington at the table by the chef himself. At first I thought the chef pouring the sauce for you at the table was a bit pretentious (odd, considering the light-hearted air to all of the doings here), but on second thought, I would bet it was to ensure the pastry was still crisp for the diners, and didn’t get soggy if they added it while plating each dish.
The next dish was one I was also looking forward to: Gnocchi, Nuts ‘n’ Duck. I was looking forward to it as I’ve had middling gnocchi before and I was very interested in how a four-star restaurant might prepare it and, when Suzy and I have been out, she’s ordered duck and the bits I’ve sampled have always been excellent.
Well, let’s just say, the Gnocchi, Nuts, ‘n’ Duck gave the scallops and Wellington a run for best dish; another plate cleaned to the last nibble. I can’t say the gnocchi was best ever, it was pretty much like the better gnocchi I’ve had, but I’ve never had it with black pepper and clove rubbed duck!
Then came Suzy’s favorite dish, the Long-Aged Shorty: a beef short rib dish. I know that I should be spending a bit more time writing about the potato aspect of each dish (the short rib came with gratin potatoes) but let’s be honest: you can’t serve up a dish of fork-tender ribs glazed with black truffle and hope to get much ink spent on the humble spud served alongside it.
The richness of the rib was thick on your tongue but it just melted away, leaving a robust and satisfying mouth-feel. The scallops were a distant memory at this point and I was looking kitchen-ward in hopes that I’d hear someone say, “Dang! We made too many ribs … what should be do?” I would have been most helpful in solving that problem. Alas.
At this point you could tell they were transitioning from the heavy, meat-centric dishes to a lighter fare. I have no idea what the next dish was without reading the menu: Basquing Pomme de Terre … read the above menu for the specifics but it was cheese and potato along with some apple stuff in there. Now, none of that was meant as a pejorative or knock on the item, which was very tasty; I just don’t really know what things like “Mille-feuille” are. In short, tasty cheese, a curiously stacked/sliced potato dish, some greens, and a cider syrup over the whole. Anyone want to guess whether my plate was cleared or not? You bet it was!
Before going on with the final dishes, I’ll explain the “Mr. Potato Head” picture. Between each couple’s place settings was a potato and, in a small bread basket, a collection of Mr. Potato Head eyes, ears, hands, feet, and other body parts. It wasn’t expressly offered, but you could draw the line of thought to the intent and Suzy and I started poking parts into our Potato Head. Suddenly, the table lit up and all were vying for parts, putting together their anthropomorphic spud, and snapping pictures. It was a nice touch and a lot of fun. I will admit that ours was a bit homely, but I found that to be part of the “charm” and really didn’t work too hard to make it better than “ugh”.
Here’s the collection that grew from a roomful of people playing with their food:
One of the final dish of the evening was the Yuzu Interlude, a sorbet with citrus overtones that didn’t appear to have a single thing to do with potatoes!
The sorbet was a simple dollop of citrusy coolness, a way to tell your taste buds and stomach that the food bonanza was coming to an end. We then got the first of two dessert plates!
The first plate was, like most of the items we had over the evening, potato-based: Sweet Potatoes. But, that title is a very loose translation of the dish.
Very little on the plate (maybe nothing) was based on an actual sweet potato. This was a dish that nearly challenged the Triptych of Tubers for “weirdest”. A part of the dish was a granulated “buckwheat crumble” that really didn’t seem to add much to the dish whatsoever.
I’m probably guilty of really wanting it to be a delicious brown-sugary, confection-y, sprinkle, and so I forked it into the ol’ pie hole. And, what I was, was a buckwheat crumble. Yup, truth in advertising, but wasn’t this supposed to be a dessert plate?!?
It was a dry, coarse powder of buckwheat that I didn’t give much of a chance to be anything but a very odd dish.
The potato ice cream dollop was fine, but I think I scooped up too much “crumble” with my mouthful and looked to the chocolate mousse to save the dish. I’m not a huge chocolate guy, so it wasn’t a panacea and I was left wondering if the strangely crisp canneloni was the oddest thing of the evening or if the crumble took the lead.
I wasn’t pondering long as they came with a proper treat dish that was heavy on sweet with a dose of satisfying to boot. This was the Native Beverages, Herbals, and Teas Spudettes; a title that to this point is still mystifying. I would have titled it “tea and treats” but that has little to do with the variety of beverage offerings and doesn’t tie in well with the potato theme. Still, my offering is more accurate.
The host came to each table and asked about your beverage choice, letting you select from a menu of some dozen options. After each person ordered he offered that it was a fine choice, one of the best. When I called him on this, he gave a sly grin and after the next person ordered he added a, “You’re not thinking about getting that, are you?”, or some such derogatory statement. And, without missing a beat, went back to his assurance that that particular beverage choice was one of the finest that could have been made; a winner if there ever were one.
Suzy and I both picked out versions of green tea to end our dinner and it was a very nice way to end a hearty meal.
I’m not sure what I was expecting but, when we were done, people just up and started leaving. Not unlike any other restaurant, but it was odd given the four-hour length, the amount of time and energy we had put into the conversations around us, and the connection we now felt with the chef, wait staff and hosts! It just seemed strange to up and walk off without exchanging contact information, shaking a hand, or thanking someone for a wonderful experience. But, in the end, we too wandered away, received our coats without giving our names (how do they do that?), got in our car, and drove the long distance home for a good night’s sleep.
That … that was a meal.
But, before I close, I will offer one other tidbit for those who have made it to the bottom of the page. At the host’s suggestion, we played a game called “Two Truths and a Lie”, in which each person at the table would think of three self-divulging facts about themselves: two which were true and one that wasn’t. The challenge for the others at the table was to figure out which of the three “facts” wasn’t true. It was a neat little ice breaker and a fun way to learn a bit about the others sharing your table and the meal.
Here are my three “facts” … can you spot the lie?
I like to climb mountains but, when I do, I prefer to climb alone.
I have five siblings, all of them male.
My favorite pet is a cat whose name is ‘Trout’.
Thanks for reading and if you ever find your way out to the Seattle area and are looking for an exceptional dining experience, try The Herbfarm: you won’t be disappointed.