My Summer Essay

I knew it would be a good summer when my mother called me up and asked if I wanted to take a little road trip–up to the esteemed The Herb Farm in Woodinville, Washington, for their summer Basil Banquet dinner and then down to Yountville, California to dine at the famed French Laundry, a meal I have dreamed about for many moons.  My momma didn’t raise no fools, so I had my Dora the Explorer duffel bag Goyard vintage travel bag out and half-packed before she’d even finished her sentence.

Arriving at the Herb Farm, we were immediately plied with strawberry and lemon verbena punch in the cozy foyer, then guided out into the garden with the rest of the evening’s diners. Standing on a bed of crushed hazelnut shells midst fragrant lavender bushes, Herb Farm co-owner Carrie Van Dyck n told the story of how the Herb Farm came to be, then led us all into the herb garden, where we sampled fennel fronds and chive blossoms, met the Herb Farm’s porcine mascots Basil and Borage, and received a preview of all the varieties of basil that would make their way onto our plates later that evening as the staff presented nine heavenly courses, each and every one of them designed to showcase my favorite of all herbs–BASIL.

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Social butterflies that we are, Mom & I had elected to sit at the European Table, a communal table for 10 set among the regular tables, a basil seed’s throw from the open kitchen where the restaurant’s crack team of accomplished and quite attractive cooks toiled over rows of spotless white plates. Our hostess made us play a getting to know each other game that involved telling everyone at the table who we were, why we were there, and the details of our first truly memorable meal. I do not like these sorts of games, but Mom taught me to be a good sport, so I obliged.

Our gracious servers came round, pouring glasses of Capitello Oregon Brut accented with your choice of either lemon basil or cinnamon basil, slightly crushed to release their blessed oils into the sparkling wine. We were then presented with our first course, “The Elemental Sea,” a trio of a tiny Puget Sound Quilcene Oyster Po’ Boy sandwich made with a housemade Genovese basil milk bun, a wood-grilled sardine with a lemon basil and cherry tomato relish, and a soft-scrambled Herbfarm egg over which was placed a pristine hunk of sweet warm Dungeness crab, lemon thyme fresh from the garden, and a scoop of beautifully salty Paddlefish caviar.

With a generous touch of theatrical flair, the thick floor length curtains separating the kitchen from the dining room suddenly swished shut, and Carrie, co-owner Ron Zimmerman, Sommelier Michael Kaminski, Sous Chef Chris Weber and the rest of the team came out to properly introduce the Herb Farm, the meal, and the wine that would accompany each dish.

“I don’t want to sound cocky,” Weber said with regards to the dish in front of us, as most of us resorted to licking the tiny cup to get every last dollop of creamy egg, “but I will take on Denny’s any day of the week with these eggs.” The crowd tittered appreciatively and I wondered if Chris told that joke to all the girls. Oh well.

Next up, the Marinated Wood-Roasted Summer Squash, with roasted Bloody Butcher heirloom tomatoes and a bright yellow squash blossom stuffed with mild housemade chevre, set upon a pool of sweet basil and nasturtium leaf pesto. The dish was paired with the Willamette Valley’s Amity Vineyard’s 2007 Pinot Blanc, which had a crisp acidity that played very nicely with the summer flavors.

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By now, we were into the swing of things. We exchanged life stories with our neighbors Sherry and Bridget, sisters celebrating Bridget’s upcoming move to Africa, and ? regaled us with stories of their edible adventures living in Germany and their Zagat-proficient foodie progeny.

The gasps were audible when the next course was set down on the table–glistening, paper thin raw Coho Salmon crudo, with spicy basil, three tender green garden peas in a dab of rich cream, licoricy fennel blossoms, a sprinkling of crunchy golden breadcrumbs, and a positively Lilliputian cucumber.

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“The best thing to do to this fish was to not really do anything at all,” Weber explained, as Kaminski introduced the accompanying 2006 Brian Carter “Oriana” from Washington’s Yakima Valley, a unique blend of Roussane, Viognier, and Riesling with a crisp acidity and lush texture that cut through the sweet fattiness of the salmon.

The fourth course was the Rabbit & Pig Dumpling, which Weber explained was a “homey, nostalgic” take on the classical Chinese street food hum bao, or barbecued pork buns. A thick crinkled dumpling was filled with a rich mix of steamed rabbit and Mangalista bacon, on a bed of Opal Basil-scented blackberry “hoisin.” The first red wine of the evening appeared, the 2006 L’Herbe Sauvage, a beautiful Pinot Noir created as a collaboration between The Herb Farm and esteemed Patricia Green Cellars in Newberg, Oregon. The dark fruit flavors of blackberry, black currant ,and black plum matched the complexity of the rabbit and pork filling, and the entire table was hushed except for the sound of tongues lapping at plates.

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I’m a sucker for a rhyme and a perfectly cooked duck breast, so I was ready for the Suckling Duckling course–honey-glazed duckling breast with a round of fall-apart tender duck confit cured for 24 hours, tiny Fog Drip chanterelle mushrooms, smashed new potatoes, grilled Little Gem lettuce, and a medley of cauliflower, haricot verts, carrots, romesco, and the ever-powerful Thai basil. The flavors of Thai Basil, curry, wild ginger and Kaffir lime gave the dish an exotic feel achieved “without stepping outside our own garden,” Weber said. Kaminski introduced the 2005 Andrew Will Ciel du Cheval Meritage, a rich and generous blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon, which Kaminski chose for its “body, elegance, and lack of big tannins,” something akin to a Bordeaux.

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Nothing says summer like figs and ruffles, hence the sixth course, entitled “Summer Fig in Ruffles,” featured housemade proscuitto and delicate ruffled basil wrapped figs with basil-scented Fall City ricotta and BC Balsamico vinegar, aged 20 months. I can’t seem to find my picture of this dish, so you will have to be content with a few pictures of dessert. 

And that concludes my summer essay. Stay tuned for my French Laundry Experience.  

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