We’re indisputably spoiled in the bounty of the Pacific Northwest. The abundance of fresh foodstuffs available has spawned countless restaurants featuring the flora and fauna of the region’s spectacular local environment. It’s not enough to say you cook “local food”, because it’s ubiquitous and obvious—now.
It hasn’t always been so. The Herbfarm Restaurant, and founders Ron Zimmerman and Carrie Van Dyck, were among the first visionaries to celebrate local food before it was obvious to do so.
Located 30 minutes out of Seattle, tucked away in the winery enclave of picturesque Woodinville, Washington, the Herbfarm is perennially rated one of the top restaurants in the United States. Singularly focused on seasonality, the menu changes every few weeks and is based on themes: The Great Basil Banquet, A Mycologist’s Dream, A Taste of Trees … Even within these windows of seasons the menu changes nightly, sometimes being finalized only hours before guests arrive.
Of course, with such advance menu planning and an out-of-the-way location, guests have to do their part, and must book in advance for the dinner. With prices ranging from $170–225 USD per person plus taxes, it’s not a spur-of-the-moment dinner out. The advance reservation ensures that all dietary concessions are considered, that your presence is eagerly awaited, and your table prepared for you (private or a seat at the convivial communal table) upon arrival.
One memorable dinner took place last fall for Über Tuber, an homage to the humble potato. Over four hours, nine courses, and generous pairings, we enjoyed potatoes in every imaginable way. The most generous food known, spuds produce more food per acre than any grain or legume and there are more than 400 varieties cultivated for 8,000 years in the western Andes. Talented next-gen chef Chris Weber (the youngest overseeing any of America’s 47 AAA 5-Diamond restaurants) did his utmost to get his hands on and utilize as many of these as he could. Our menu included Carola, Ozette, Purple Majesty, La Ratte, Maris Piper, Bintje, and more.
Über Tuber started off with a cup of good cheer in the form of house-harvested and brewed medlar and rose geranium tea, followed by a tour in the extensive herb garden with the generous and experienced Van Dyck—complete with plucking and tasting—knowing full well these very herbs would soon find their way to our plates. Zimmerman, an unpretentious and humorous encyclopedia of culinary and vinous knowledge, hosted the evening, introducing the crew, chef, and each course.
Course after course of imaginative, exquisitely presented, expertly prepared food filled the tables: tubers mashed with fresh king crab leg, turned into waffles with coho roe and rose radish in the form of Espelette pepper tater tots, and in the midst of Oregon black truffle gratin. Dessert even featured the versatile spud by way of chocolate dipped potato chips and walnut mashed potato fudge.
Sommelier Joey Lopaka constantly refilled Riedel glasses with specially selected wines from the Herbfarm’s collection of 26,000 bottles and 4,500 selections, special wines plucked from Pacific Northwest wineries. Wine geeks supplemented the evening with exceptional wines from the Herbfarm cellars. I enjoyed a 1945 Massandra Rose Muscat, a flight of rare Rutherglen Rosewood muscats (including a solera began in 1890), and finished with a spectacular 1795 Madeira. Yes, Madeira from the 18th century. It might just be the oldest drinkable wine still available to taste in the world.
The whole Herbfarm experience achieves umami—that complete sensory experience of capturing the ingredients, the moment, and the flavours at their peak. With a Spanish guitarist strumming, fire crackling in the kitchen, candles providing a flattering glow, and a well-paced flow of beautiful plates and glasses, friends are made here, united by love of food and wine. Time flies by and stands still, but the memories (oh that Madeira) will always remain.
Photos by Ron Zimmerman.