Dining out in Wine Country is always a special treat, for many reasons. Wine can be terrific as an aperitif, but where wine really shines is at the table, alongside a well-prepared meal. Wine can bring out the best in food and food can bring out the best in wine. It is perfect symbiosis! Good wine and good food attract each other. Where you find lots of one, you will tend to find lots of the other.
Woodinville, WA. is a 30 minute drive north of Seattle and a 2 ½ hour drive south of Vancouver BC. Woodinville, as we have written before, is home to over 100 wineries and tasting rooms, and is one of our favourite places to visit. When we want to make a visit to Woodinville extra special, we make a reservation at the Herb Farm. The Herbfarm sits in its own small and very cozy house on the grounds of Willows Lodge, right across the street from the Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery. It has become a recent tradition for us to celebrate our anniversary with dinner at the Herbfarm. Actually, dinner is not the right word, a dining experience is what you get!
This was our fifth dining experience at the Herbfarm. The Herbfarm offers just one seating a night, Thursday through Sundays. The experience starts about 30 minutes before dinner is served when you are invited to come in and tour their wine cellar and enjoy a special cocktail of their creation. The cellar is an amazing experience, holding 25,000 bottles including several going back into the 1800s.
Wines of Washington and Oregon figure prominently but you will also find collectors’ dreams from most wine regions of the world there. Co-owner Ron Zimmerman will greet you in the cellar and answer any questions about any of the wines in there. His knowledge is truly encyclopedic! After touring the cellar we return to the salon where Ron’s wife and co-owner Carrie Van Dyck explains to us a little history of the restaurant and gives us a preview of how the evening’s meal was chosen and prepared. Always a fascinating presentation, a highlight is when she passes around some of the herbs that will be ingredients and has us smell them as she describes the dishes they will go in to.
After the presentation we enter the dining room, one of the coziest you will find anywhere! It is beautiful, comfortable and whimsical with its eclectic collection of knick-knacks from around the world. As we are seated, and the first course and first wine is being served, Ron introduces his incredibly talented team of cooks and servers. Chef Chris Weber also speaks as does Sommelier Bruce Achtermann. Dinner is nine of the most incredible courses you could imagine, each impeccably paired with top quality wines of the Pacific Northwest. This is classic farm to table fare, locally sourced from sustainable producers which reflect both the season and the place. Dinners are based upon themes which change roughly every 3 weeks.
At our recent visit the theme was their end of year “The Moon and the Stars”. As with all Herbfarm dinners, each course is intricately planned to take advantage of the local bounties that are in season and then put together to deliver intense flavours, gorgeous textures with beautiful visual presentation. We have written more thoroughly about the Herbfarm before so we will just cover a few highlights here. Leading off the night was their Winter Trio. On the plate was Jerusalem Artichoke Souffle with Melted Sorrel, Gooseneck Barnacle Sauce. Next to it was Kohlrabi with Dill, Beefheart Sauce and Montana Paddlefish Caviar. Completing the Trio was Foie Gras Custard with Candy Cap Mushroom, Dried herbs and Flowers. Yes, that is just one dish!
It was paired exquisitely with Rollin Soles’ (of ROCO Winery) 2014 RMS NV Brut from Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The crisp cut of this sparkling wine paired brilliantly with Kohlrabi and Caviar and its leesy, almost creamy texture gave it the body to handle that wildly decadent Foie Gras Custard! Could this be the best sparkler made outside of Champagne? It’s never easy to pick favourites at the Herb Farm but the Braised Wagyu Beef Cheek glazed with Homemade Garrum, Salted and Sour Berries, Wood-Roasted Onions with House Bacon and parsley was certainly a standout. The texture of the beef is near impossible to describe. It is so tender and yet so intensely flavoured.
Sommelier Bruce Atchermann found just the wine to serve with it: the 2015 Upchurch Vineyard Counterpart from Red Mountain, Washington. This is the latest project of one of Washington’s wine-making icons: Chris Upchurch. Chris was a co-founder of DeLille Cellars where he made their wines for 23 years, propelling it to the very top rungs of Washington’s wineries. To match the amazing texture of the beef you have to also have a wine of great texture. Upchurch’s Counterpart, a blend of 65% Merlot and 35% Cabernet Sauvignon aged in 100% new oak did the job beautifully! This was a stunning wine by any measure but its achievement is all the more remarkable when you consider its age (2015 vintage) and that it was the winery’s inaugural vintage of this blend! Already sold out, this is a winery to definitely watch!
Music is provided by the incredibly talented Patricio Contreras and his acoustic guitar. Patricio is originally from Chile where he began to play the guitar at age 6. He trained at the Madrid School of Conservatory and now lives in Seattle where he teaches guitar in affiliation with the Seattle Central Community College and directs his own music academy. He has been playing regularly at the Herb Farm since 1988 and his soothing tones and sophisticated style are the perfect accompaniment to the food and wine and help set the mood for the evening. We frequently request Patricio to play “Cavatina” (the theme from the Deer Hunter) which he does with incredible sensitivity so get ready to hide your tears!
While the food at the Herbfarm is as serious as it gets, the atmosphere in the restaurant is light and easy, sometimes whimsical. A great Herfarm tradition is when you excuse yourself from the table you may very likely find that upon your return a Jackalope has occupied your seat and taken over the conversation at the table. This part rabbit, part antelope is the local mascot and diners frequently enjoy having their pictures taken with him.
At the end of the meal you are offered a selection of locally brewed coffees and teas. You are also offered to buy some amazing dessert wines by the glass that are true rarities. Such recherché gems as the 100 point 2001 Chateau D’Yquem or as we did, the 1946 Toro Albala Don Pedro Ximinez Sherry. Also a 100 point wine, this is THE greatest dessert wine we have ever tasted. We love how these wines are offered: casually, they are there if you want them, but absolutely no pressure or attempt to upsell. Standard Herb Farm classiness.
A dining experience at the Herbfarm is truly an extraordinary event. Due to its excellent food quality and impeccable service, it continues to gain applause from some of the highest circles: it is an AAA 5 Diamond recipient, a James Beard Foundation Award winner as well as many other awards from Zagat, DiRona, Fodor’s and National Geographic Traveler, among others. Reservations are essential and we would recommend booking a month in advance as the restaurant is small and each day becoming better known. Have a light lunch that day as you will get plenty of food that evening! Also, a taxi, town car or designated driver is a very good idea as well. The Herbfarm provides you with 6 glasses of wine and they are very generous when comes to topping up your glass! Experiences cost $205 – $265 per person (depending on the theme and the day of the week), plus tax and service and are prepaid via credit card so you don’t have to deal with a bill at the end of the meal.
14590 N.E. 145th Street