Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Night Out

The Herbfarm is not so much a restaurant as an experience. An experience that has been lovingly and self-consciously shaped by its proprietors from the start. You begin at the fireplace. It is remarkably ornate and warming. Your host tells you that her husband bought it, like so many of the restaurant's vaguely rococo decorations, on Ebay. You are given a glass of spiced cider, adding to the warm fuzzy feelings you are developing for this place, as your host tells you its history and passes tonight's herbs around for scratch and sniff. You are told about the pot-bellied pigs, Basil & Borage, whom you are invited to go and visit between courses. And then you are welcomed into the dining room. With its candles and glasses of varying sizes, the whole place is refracted light set to Spanish guitar, played expertly by the gentleman in the corner. A server comes around with a basket of herbs and asks you to select one for your champagne cocktail. You select the lemon verbena. Your husband picks the rose geranium. Two delicate leaves are plucked, dropped in glasses, and covered in Argyle 2002 Brut that makes you reminisce about your late summer wine trip. You sniff your glasses, quaff, and trade. Amazing how a single leaf can flavor an entire glass of sparkling wine. The theme is Temptations in Spice. The first course, a trio of amuse-bouches, involves a cardamom-plumped Westcott Bay oyster. You think of shucking these oysters yourself only a few months before on San Juan Island. Remarkably, despite your fears, the cardamom has enhanced rather than overpowered the oyster's succulent, briny, sweetness. Golden Alaskan King Crab with shaved nasturtium and kaffir lime leaf is similarly improved. But lavender proves a bit too delicate for pork belly. The second course is called The Black Cod Pines for Mushrooms. It is exquisite. You want a bowl of its jasminey, earthy, miso broth. The third course - a Morrocan-spiced potato brandade agnolotti with grilled WA smelt is good, but not as good as the second. The fourth course, Duck in the Cabbage Patch, is another stunner; a perfect, diminutive duck sausage so tiny it causes your sausage-making husband to question the derivation of its casing, garnished with a savoy cabbage terrine, cauliflower mousse, and lentils, so good they could be served by themselves. And finally, the main attraction: Oregon Wagyu beef done two ways. Your husband, a master of the braise, declares the 16-hour braised short rib the best he's ever had. He wants to know how it's done. He's told it involves a circulator and is invited to the kitchen after dinner to check it out. You know what's going on his wish list this Christmas. The coffee and spice-crusted tenderloin, however, is just not as tender as it should be. But this doesn't bother you because a different delicious wine has been served with each course and all is right with the world. In fact, things are going so well, that you decide to splurge. You order two extra dessert wine flights to split - The Global Nobles (featuring botrytis, the noble rot) and An Affair with Sherry. Each comes with its own handout describing the wines with an accompanying picture - a regal rottweiler for the late harvest botrytis wines and a sexy Spanish dancer for the sherries. Flights at the ready, you move into an artisan goat cheese from Estrella Creamery, then the Spice Cream Cone, a miniature white pepper and saffron ice cream cone in its own perfect little paper holder, that your husband insists on saving to show his culinary students. And then, as if you needed more, there is a final trio of desserts: an apple toffee cake, chai custard, and pumpkin-bay ice cream. You're not sure chai is really the most appropriate flavor for custard, but no matter, the ice cream more than makes up for its shortcomings. You end the meal with miniardises and a splash of 1916 Madeira. You realize you never went to visit the pigs, so you get your coat and totter across the driveway to pay your respects, grain bucket in hand. After this short jaunt across the driveway in your high heels, having had more glasses of wine than you care to count, you're glad you thought to get a room at the neighboring Willows Lodge. As you head for your room, your husband pronounces this his best birthday ever.

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