Debra Prinzing

Get the Email Newsletter!

A Foraged Dinner at The Herbfarm

Saturday, May 7th, 2011

The Herbfarm Restaurant

Last weekend I was a guest at The Herbfarm, the only AAA 5-Diamond restaurant west of Chicago and north of San Francisco, rated number 1 in the Pacific Northwest for both food and service by the Zagat Guide

Dining there is a true “culinary experience” that draws food aficionados from around the world. I’ve been fortunate enough to eat at The Herbfarm Restaurant on three prior occasions dating back to 1995 when I dragged Bruce there to celebrate his appointment as Seattle’s deputy mayor. Our friends Jenny Ulum and Tim Gleason actually flew to Seattle from Eugene, Oregon, in order to join us at that meal. 

The menu cover reads: "What was Paradise? But a garden. . . "

The Herbfarm Restaurant proprietors Carrie Van Dyck and Ron Zimmerman hosted fellow writer Robyn Cannon and me for an unforgettable meal last Sunday evening. We’re talking a four-and-a-half-hour, nine-course extravaganza that celebrates locally grown ingredients prepared with innovation and ingenuity. I say unforgettable, in that years after an evening at The Herbfarm, one can instantly recall tasting (perhaps for the very first time) a specific dish or uncommon ingredient. Oh, and did I mention that each course is paired with a Northwest libation selected by Sommelier Tysan Dutta? The wines are chosen to complement and enhance every bite. 

The Herbfarm’s history is long and not without drama (including a fire that destroyed the original Herbfarm location in Fall City, Washington, that was started by Ron’s parents in 1974 as a small nursery, followed by challenges trying to gain permission to rebuild). 

I have such fond memories of the old-timey Herbfarm. When my oldest son Benjamin was little, I used to take him out there to see the herb garden and a few farm animals. We still have the lavender-filled stuffed bunny rabbit, which we found in the gift shop. Those expeditions usually involved bringing along another mom and child to have a picnic in the herb garden. 

Carrie Van Dyck begins each meal with a tour of the garden.

The Herbfarm Restaurant’s current location in Woodinville dates back to 2001 when Ron and Carrie had to pick up and move the entire restaurant. They constructed a charming English-Tudor style cottage that houses antiques, a vintage fireplace, and tables that overlook the kitchen-as-theatre all night long. 

Robyn and I were staying at the adjacent Willows Lodge where we attended the Pacific Northwest Travel Writers Conference. And that’s how we ended up sneaking out of the proceedings late Sunday afternoon to join Carrie as she hosted the pre-dinner tour. The Herbfarm and Willows Lodge share a vegetable and herb garden where raised beds and clipped boxwood balls are interconnected by crunchy hazelnut shelled pathways. 

Carrie picked and passed around some of the edible ingredients that diners might expect to taste that evening — tulip petals, sweet cicely, sorrell, lovage, thyme, fennel and lemon verbena. We stopped to visit the resident pair of Vietnamese potbelly pigs named Basil and Borage, who reside in a pen next to the composting area. That seems appropriate, doesn’t it? 

Once we followed Carrie indoors and were seated for dinner, Ron took the stage to explain a bit more about the menu development. The Herbfarm creates 26 different themed menus each year, based on the seasonal availability of ingredients and the culinary whims of the chef Chris Weber and his team. By the way, Chef Chris is one of the youngest 5-star chefs in the country. Possibly THE youngest. What a talent!