My good friend Frank Maloney turned 60 the other day. A few months ago, he invited Emma and me to join him and his partner, Lyndol, at The Herbfarm. The Herbfarm is one of the very best restaurants in the Seattle area. Certainly one of the most expensive.
Frank brought us to The Herbfarm, but not at his own expense. One of Frank’s college roommates was Ron Zimmerman, the owner of The Herbfarm, and Ron had invited Frank to bring Lyndol and two guests over for his 60th birthday. Ron semi-seriously credits Frank with introducing him to good wine, when Frank was a sommelier in the Seventies.
We had a marvelous time. This was our first visit. It won’t be our last, but dinner runs nearly $200 per person, so we’ll never be regulars.
The Herbfarm is in the Sammamish River valley, right next to the Red Hook Brewery, near Woodinville. The building looks like a traditional farmhouse, though I’m sure it was recently built. Inside, it’s both cosy and elegant, with some eccentric touches in the dining room.
Dinner is an all-evening experience with a nine-course dinner. We arrived not long after six, and left just after midnight. On arrival, we toured the premises, finding Ron in his alarmingly well-stocked wine cellar.
At six-thirty, Carrie Van Dyck, Ron’s wife, brought the forty or so guests on a tour of the herb garden, describing the herbs that were to be featured in that evening’s menu. She told us how to grow each herb, passing out fresh samples of herbs, including lemon thyme, lemon geranium, lemon basil, and anise hyssop. We also saw the truffling pigs and the ducks they keep in one corner of the garden.
We sat down at seven, starting out with small servings of crab soup, mussels, and baby corn. I detest fish – I cannot stand the smell or the taste – so I passed the soup and mussels on to Emma and Frank, who were more than happy to have my share.
After we had finished the first course, Ron brought out his chef, Jerry Traunfeld, and they launched into a long description of both that night’s menu and upcoming menus, paying particular attention to the wines. They concluded by introducing the dozen or so staff. I’ve never seen such a full-blown introduction to dinner, but they had a lot to talk about, and it lived up to the promise.
The next course was smoked black cod, which I passed on to Frank, but not before nibbling on a corner of it. Every couple of years, I give in to my companions and try a piece of some highly recommended fish dish. As always, it did nothing for me, but everyone else liked theirs. I comforted myself with the two different Chardonnays that were served with the cod. My life would be simpler if I weren’t so averse to fish.
After that point, all the food was to my liking. There followed a goat cheese ravioli with figs, which was succeeded by a grilled squab. We washed that down with apple-shiso ice.
I love lamb, and I greatly enjoyed the loin of lamb. The cheese that followed was a fine blend of sharp and nutty.
I was starting to flag at this point, from all the wine and food, but I gamely took on the desserts: a small cone of ice cream and a peach cobbler.
The final two courses were coffee and small treats with madeira. I couldn’t face the latter, but we boxed them up, and I just ate a couple now.
Throughout the evening, Ron was a gracious and thoughtful host, paying particular attention to our table.
Many years ago, Frank published a small volume of poetry called How to Eat a Slug.
Imagine our delight when Ron produced a chocolate slug.
Frank had been very sick earlier in the summer and we had wondered for a while if he would be well enough to go. His health is still not good, but he was well enough to thoroughly enjoy a truly memorable evening.
Here’s to many more birthdays, Frank!