Friday, July 11, 2008

The Herbfarm review

My review of The Herbfarm ran in today's Seattle P-I, a piece I spent days agonizing about. Not to mention the roughly 15 hours of dine time during three nine-course meals.

It's no picnic to criticize a beloved icon, but it's my responsibility to report honestly about my experience. And in a pretty limited space, considering all the food I tried. I didn't even get to go into the quirks of the place, the incessant merchandising and self-promotion, the arrogance of calling Foraged and Found's Jeremy Faber the house forager (when he supplies to restaurants throughout the region) and the curious absence of the guitarist for a long stretch at the beginning of one dinner service.

Then, there was the utter lack of personal connection. Though I went to dinner three times in three months, there was never a glimmer of recognition for a returning guest. Not a critic, because I make reservations under another name, but just a "welcome back", "nice to see you again." Time and again, when I saw guests try to interact with the owner, they were given a smart-aleck response -- Carrie Van Dyck asked if I was mad at her when I furrowed my brow as she set a plate in front of me... say what!!?? -- or virtually ignored. A woman who was celebrating her anniversary lavished compliments and all she got in return from Ron Zimmerman was a strained smile. 

I was -- I still am -- prepared for an avalanche of blow back on this controversial review. But so far, I've only heard agreement. Anyone care to share their Herbfarm experience?


david said...


I applaud your bravery. Sticking to journalistic standards of food criticism in Seattle is a very precarious thing to do indeed. But, as we all know, restaurants are only as good as the last Guest they serve. Too many restaurants in this market rest on laurels or, in the case of The Herbdfarm, a self-spun legacy. It is shameful that a property with such wonderful pedigree, such potential, cannot seem to do the simplest of things, to be gracious. What once (from personal experience) was a wonderful, spontaneous evening has turned into a cookie cutter experience, with anyone stepping out of line (like being late or not wanting to hear Ms. Van Dyke's disquisition on herbs) ostracized, an astonishing way to treat folks spending so much money. Perhaps the owners could use a little vacation, maybe visit the French Laundry and see just how a country restaurant which charges in excess of $200 per person treats its guests.

You are good for this town.

Malarkey said...

I agree with your assessment of the front of the house at the Herbfarm. It's a very tired routine. It's time they dropped the story, and time for the owners to play a much smaller and less visible role in the restaurant if they can't maintain graciousness on a day to day basis.

The thing that made me stop in my tracks was your assessment of the 1912 Bual Madeira. If you'd truly rather have an oreo cookie than this "medicinal" wine (as you described it), then I call into question your taste and every review you write.