Ron Zimmerman looks at the world through a different set of glasses than most people, but his way of looking is refreshing. After many years in the corporate world, he moved to France and studied cooking in some of France’s finest restaurants.
Eventually, Ron and his wife, Carrie Van Dyck, moved back to Ron’s hometown of Seattle. His mother was selling herbs, literally from a wheelbarrow at the side of the road. Ron, knowing that good food and herbs are nearly inseparable, expanded the existing business and opened a small retail herb nursery on his parents’ land. Then he converted some existing buildings into a restaurant, and The Herbfarm was born.
Very quickly, the restaurant blossomed into something remarkable. Reservations quickly became hard to come by. It wasn’t unusual to wait a year or more for a reservation.
They served lunch and dinner, both for a set price with a set menu. Lunch was $65 per person and took two hours. Dinner was $165 per person, which included four hours of eating and nine courses of food with seven wines.
The Herbfarm is now housed in the winery district of northeast Seattle, in completely new surroundings. The old building on the family farm burned a few years back, and this was the first I’d seen of the new location.
Dinner at The Herbfarm is unlike anything you will ever experience anywhere. This isn’t the kind of meal, or experience, that you dash into and expect to eat and leave quickly. The Herbfarm’s tantalizing experience allows guests to savor the flavors of the freshest herbs and vegetables grown by the restaurant staff and picked just minutes before cooking.
My most recent meal at The Herbfarm began with a pair of Olympia oysters, some paddlefish caviar in a fingerling potato, served next to a Dungeness crab with dill in a lovely “beggar’s purse,” which was tied together with a sprig of chive leaf, and a helping of Jerusalem artichoke chips with green goddess dip. That was only the first plate — the appetizer for the appetizer — and was served with a small glass of 1997 Argyle Brut wine.
The meals at The Herbfarm are served European style, meaning large, wooden slab tables with several guests to a table. Ron goes to considerable effort to seat guests together who have things in common — you may magically discover that your dinner companions are all writers, all have herb businesses, or recently have traveled abroad. The planning behind the scenes for your dining experience is exquisite.
During the evening, Ron introduces chef Jerry Traunfeld and his entire staff for a description of the meal. The wine steward also is on call to marry the best wines available with the proper foods.
Traunfeld uses fresh herbs as if they are colors on a palette, painting flavors throughout the foods he presents. The Herbfarm gardener Eaglesong goes to great lengths to grow beautiful, unusual herbs and vegetables.
Our meal that night also included ravioli stuffed with foie gras, parsley root and Washington black truffle, a basilwood-smoked Alaskan king salmon, one of The Herbfarm’s famous black pansy sorbets for a palate cleanser, spice-encrusted breast of muscovy duck, cheeses, desserts, coffees, rosemary rolls and more items that we ate, savored and giggled over during those four hours of dining than I can even remember.
Ron, Carrie and The Herbfarm have taken the use of herbs in cooking to new heights. Annually for the past 12 years or so, The Herbfarm restaurant is voted one of the top four restaurants in the Pacific Northwest, an enviable reputation considering the region’s extraordinary restaurants.
At the end of the evening, there wasn’t a crumb wasted nor a morsel that wasn’t so incredible I didn’t want to curl up next to it and die of complete satisfaction. Herbs! They’re not just for sprinkling over pasta anymore!
For more information on The Herbfarm, visit www.theherbfarm.com.
Readers comments and questions are always welcome at Jim Long’s website, www.Longcreekherbs.com.