Dishin’: “Herb-Friendly” at The Herbfarm

A Selection of Small Treats
Five hours and $500 for dinner for two? Does that include getting high?

Yes, on herbs.

Earlier this month, The Herbfarm invited us to experience “A Menu for an Autumn Sketchbook.” Dinner at The Herbfarm is an experience—a single seating, nine course (with six matched wines) affair based on an often-changing theme to take advantage of fresh, local, and seasonal ingredients. Herbs are a big component, so the night started with an educational experience: a tasting tour of leaves, flowers, and stems to be featured during dinner. Enlightening.

Next, staff escorted us to our assigned seats at one of the European Common Tables (you can also reserve a private table) to share with others. It’s a roll of the dice, but our tablemates were foodies and it was fun to break bread together. (A good thing if you’re spending so many hours together.) While getting to know our neighbors, we also took in all the items on the table, like the little lanterns, personalized nameplates, and dainty dishes.

Oh, and the menu. It’s actually a keepsake booklet to remember the experience. Too much to read? No worries; after the first course, the entire staff lines up for a formal introduction and welcome—Chef Keith Luce walks through the menu, describing details of ingredients and inspiration, while one of the sommeliers previews the accompanying wines. While we enjoyed the wines, we were also excited to sample the delicious, herb-enhanced non-alcohol pairings, including concoctions of (1) peppermint and elderflower, (2) roasted chamomile, hibiscus and bing cherry, and (3) rosemary, lavender and anise hyssop. (The first course, “A Garden Touched by the Sea,” included an anise hyssop leaf laying below an herbed up Bellingham Boundary Bay anchovy. You’ll learn to eat everything at The Herbfarm. The leaf tasted like minted root beer.)

The welcome felt a bit formulaic and protracted. We wondered whether this and other elements of the meal could be streamlined to perhaps shorten the time. Then again, go in with that time expectation, and relax, chat, listen to the live guitar, take a stroll (you can get scraps to feed Basil and Borage, the resident pigs), play some bocce—and enjoy the service (hey, you’re paying for it!), which is remarkably thoughtful and intuitive without being intrusive. (We often wondered if the servers were reading our minds in anticipating our questions or bringing us just what we needed.)

Two highlights of the meal were the Autumn Squash Cappellacci—great fall flavor enhanced by dried currants and sage-fried chickpeas—and a course called “Squab in the Vineyard.” It was perhaps the most tender squab we’re ever eaten, and served with a side of luscious pate made with the squab (and goose) liver. We tried to score some extra from our tablemates, but (unfortunately for us) everyone was enjoying it. Offally good! The only miss was crepe-wrapped, five spice-scented lamb shoulder which all agreed had a metallic, off-taste—but that plate included a fabulous, caraway and English thyme-crusted lamb loin with terrific tongue-of-fire beans.)

Following the cheese and charcuterie course (a chance to sample ports, muscats, and ice wines at additional cost) came three final courses—all sweets. A gingered cardomom-apple beignet came with shiso ice that the chef rightly described as cinnamony herbaceous love.” Still hungry? How about “three tree desserts,” including a tasty quince tart with Herbfarm honey and Douglas fir sabayon?

But wait, there’s more. Open up your “Comforting Beverages” menu to page…well, we went for the two tisanes: spearmint and lemon verbena. (How could we not, with the herb farm so close by?) And then one last, miniature menu. The “Selection of Small Treats” listed such goodies as a lemon-mint macaroon, a rose geranium milk chocolate truffle, and—most intriguing—a bacon-thyme marshmallow.

So, indeed, dinner at The Herbfarm is an experience. Is it expensive? Yes, especially if you try the 1795 Madeira, served up at $1,795 for a 5-oz carafe, or $150 for 1/3-oz. Or if you choose to stay overnight at their Suites, or at Willows Lodge, which isn’t a bad idea after imbibing so much.

Is it worth it? The Herbfarm might not be everyone’s schtick, but it makes for a memorable evening, full of flavor surprises and superior service. While we can think of a few places where we’ve had better food locally, The Herbfarm is a Seattle-area institution well worth experiencing at least once in a lifetime, and one that is most “herb-friendly.”

Cross-posted at Seattlest.

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