The Herbfarm: The Ultimate Splurge

For an unparalleled survey of the regional bounty, head north to Woodinville's temple of microseasonal dining.

By Rachel Ritchie September 3, 2013 Published in the September 2013 issue of Portland Monthly

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: Seared Muscovy duck breast with grape must sauce, matsutake and chanterelle mushrooms, and granola; carrot ravioli with boletus mushrooms and currant and sage sauce; the Herbfarm’s garden of raised beds

When you call for a reservation at the Herbfarm, you will at some point be asked what the occasion is. Because for an evening at this hallowed Northwest institution, you’d better be celebrating something. At $200 a head, it’s quite the venture—one in which every dedicated member of the cult of Cascadian food should indulge.

A guided garden tour and an exhaustive speech about the meal serve as a preamble to nine decadent courses (and countless herbs) matched with six wines over four hours. In this farm-to-table ultramarathon, tender carrots “served four ways” still taste of the earth from which they were yanked hours before, just a stroll down the road. It all unfolds in a room that could be on the set of Downton Abbey—sculptured candelabras, florid chandeliers, bedecked floor-to-ceiling with worldly trinkets and flourishes.  

As owners Ron Zimmerman and Carrie Van Dyck will gleefully recount, the Herbfarm began with a tuft of extra chives in a Fall City garden. Lola Zimmerman (Ron’s mother) sold them to some curious passersby, and thus the Herbfarm was born. Makeshift greenhouses grew into an herbal nursery, which then spawned a restaurant (in the garage), which then expanded (beyond the garage and into the cellar). 

The Herbfarm today sits on the southern end of Woodinville, Washington, a pastoral hamlet lined with vineyards and farmhouses, with its own five-acre farm just a mile south, and 90 wineries within a 10-mile radius. In the morning, 27-year-old chef Chris Weber assembles a list of the ingredients he needs for dinner, the farmers pick it, and the kitchen sets about creating its nightly theater. The result is a dreamlike progression of intensely artful, sometimes breathtaking dishes. In the height of summer, a prelude of bright basil soup might move to a delicate artichoke agnolotti and roasted chicken with a morel “ragù.” Autumn may bring sockeye salmon with squash blossom and lemon thyme and, to finish, an “anthology” of desserts: blackberry-rose geranium ice cream, pear soufflé, and huckleberry cobbler. 

When you are released from the dining room, you’ll find yourself in a state that might be called the Herbfarm trance. Take our advice: spend the night. Just across the cul-de-sac, a mere stumble away, the boutique Willows Lodge includes two Herbfarm suites, decorated sumptuously with the same over-the-top hand. After savoring one of the country’s deepest wine lists (26,000 bottles strong), repair to your tub for a leisurely soak. As you sit by your marble fireplace, contemplating the flames while swaddled in your plush bathrobe, you may find yourself wondering what anniversary, bonus, or birthday might justify your next night here.

Chef Chris Weber with a fresh king salmon; the Herbfarm's understated entryway

Put Your Herbs to Work

← 1. Steep four or five lavender flowers in simple syrup and combine with a glass full of ice and sparkling water for a refreshing, fragrant soda.

2. Use a sprig of rosemary as a swizzle stick in a glass of dry sherry, or add sticks of rosemary to your ice cube trays to spruce up the beverage of your choice. →

← 3. Chop up some sweet, aromatic lemon thyme with a bit of melted butter to toss in with pasta for a light and lovely autumn meal.

4. Pour hot white-wine vinegar into a jar full of oniony chive blossoms, cover, let sit for two weeks, and strain. The pink-hued vinegar is great in salad dressings and marinades. →

← 5. Steep a handful of freshly picked herbs in a pot of hot water for a vibrant, complex, and healthful cup of tea. 

Hit the Road

Pack: Bring business cards; after four hours of side-by-side feasting, you’re likely to form bonds with your dinner companions.

Hot Tip: Head across the street to Washington’s oldest winery, Chateau Ste. Michelle.

Soudtrack: The warm, country-swept vocals of Seattleite Shelby Earl’s Swift Arrows will guide you north.

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