Tale of Two Dinners

I love good food, and the older I get the more I don’t want to settle for less. It can be at home, take out or served in a restaurant, but wherever it is eaten good food is food made with high quality ingredients, attention to detail, concern for presentation, and a desire to please. It doesn’t have to be expensive but high quality ingredients can be surprisingly expensive. Kraft parmesan in the little green shaker box is not a substitute for Reggiano Parmesano. There is no substitute for Reggiano. You get the idea.

M and I like the “small plates” food revolution that kicked off about 10 or 15 years ago. It’s the way we like to eat, sharing several plates – what used to be called appetizers, and we often go to Happy Hours not only because it’s cheaper but because the Happy Hour menus feature a limited selection of small plates that go well with drinks.

Nevertheless, on special occasions we still go out and have a multi-course meal, and we are always on the lookout for restaurants with a little flare and a reputation for originality. Last year, for Christmas, one of our sons gave us a gift certificate for The Herbfarm, a legendary high end eatery in Woodinville that made its reputation serving meals made with locally sourced products and herbs from its own garden. It was a thoughtful gift and it came with an apology for not being able to underwrite the whole meal. The kid has good taste but a limited bank account.


I had been to The Herbfarm before but M had not and we were grateful for the gift and excited to try it again.

It’s definitely a special occasion place but we got off on the wrong foot right away when M called to make the reservation. The hostess provided a list of do’s and don’ts and asked for our credit card number. M told her we had a gift certificate and she would be happy to give her the number to hold the reservation. No – that wasn’t good enough; she needed the credit card and the $650 bill for the dinner (including gratuity) would be charged automatically on the night of the dinner. That’s right, dinner for two would be $650.

I’m highly suspicious of restaurants with attitude. Those that talk down to customers and treat them like ignorant peasants. “You couldn’t possibly understand how wonderful and complicated it is to prepare food the way WE do it.” My guard is always up when there is a hint of attitude, and my guard was up when we arrived for our dinner.

The Herbfarm has one seating at 7PM and it’s a fixed 9-course meal with paired wines. Guests are encouraged to arrive 30 minutes early for a guided tour of the herb garden and then seated all together at the same time. The meal lasts 4 hours. I have a 2.5 hour ass.

Herbfarm menu


The interior of the restaurant is dark. Dark wood. Dark table settings. Antique silver pieces. Subdued lighting from old fashioned chandeliers. It was midsummer but there was no light from the outside. The feeling is medieval.

I won’t bore you with detailed descriptions of the 9 courses. The food was well prepared and nicely presented, but the falderal surrounding the meal was pretentious and unnecessary. The staff was introduced. The history of The Herbfarm was reviewed. The chef was introduced. The chef explained that everything served was sourced within 100 miles of the restaurant, including the mustard and pickles and blueberries ad nauseum. The owners were introduced and each course was described in detail. All of this before we had a bite of anything.

Herbfarm plate


By the time the 7th course, a wild blackberry soufflé with rose-geranium saffron sauce was served we were 3h 15min into the 4 hour ordeal and I was ready to bolt. I might have endured but for the fact that since coffee is not grown within 100 miles of the restaurant only herbal tea would be served. That didn’t do it for me so at the 3h 45min mark we left.

I know The Herbfarm does a quality job at every stage of the experience. In fact, one of the most impressive things about the evening was that as we were leaving the hostess, in the entry way was waiting to hand me my jacket and as we walked out the door the car was idling at the curb. How they did that I will never know. We hadn’t announced our departure. The bill was prepaid. We were leaving early. It’s still a mystery to me. Clearly they are paying attention.

Despite the fact that everything is well done, it’s not my kind of well done. I don’t like the pretension and the “big deal” attitude. I like my food straight up. Simple or elegant I like it straight up. Two weeks ago we ate lunch at Emeril’s in New Orleans. The three course lunch with two glasses of wine and 20% tip was less than $100. Now that was a meal I enjoyed – food, service, and ambience. The whole nine yards.

On Tuesday we rode our bikes to Woodinville for Happy Hour at the Hollywood Tavern. Talk about simple. I had a burger and a pint of amber. M had seared sirloin tips and a glass of Pinot Grigio. $35 round trip. And we sat outside at a picnic table next to the fire pit. The Hollywood is roughly 200 yards from The Herbfarm and we saved $615.

Hollywood Tavern

More tomorrow…


  1. Somehow your description of the Herbfarm reminded me of the Willows (Lummi Island) where I was dragged last year. They don’t have attitude at the Willows and the biking on the island is fine, but hilly (Marilynn once again take note) BUT the meal does consist of Avogadros # of courses, each one the size of a single bacterium (only slight exaggeration) … at which point I’m ready for a plate of pasta and the hell with the falderal as Jack would say (I think it’s actually folderol, but never mind). Guess I’m not a foodie.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *