Is Rover's that good? And Herbfarm too...
- sonja Feb 26, 2001 03:40 PM
I've heard raves about Rover's and the Herbfarm for so long they've become something of a myth. And that's what I want to know from people that have actually been there---are they really that good? It's funny how people tend to just repeat what they've heard about places like Canlis, Rover's, Cascadia, the Herbfarm, when most of them haven't actually been themselves....so, for those that have been, please do tell and don't hold any punches. If I'm going to go, I want to go to the best of the bunch.
By the way, if you think the best restaurant isn't listed above (Mistral?), tell me.
Yes, they are both that good!
We were lucky enough to have our first meal at Rover's the very first week Thiery was in town (friends had recommended Kevin, the original owner/chef [and namer!], very enthusiastically but as usual it took us a while to get there!). The place was almost empty so we got incredible service and special attention from Thiery who came out to check on us after every course. Everything was delicious and we were quickly stuffed and declined dessert. But Thiery brought dessert anyway and begged us to taste it just to give him some feedback; it was an unbelievable bavarois of yogurt decorated with tiny violets and served with two sauces, one berry and one apricot-peach, and of course we licked the plates clean. Over the years we've been regulars, welcomed even with our baby (maybe even ESPECIALLY with our baby since Thiery usually wanted to visit and rock him a little), and Rover's was usually our first choice for special occasions (a point not missed by the restaurant which for years now has been sending birthday and anniversary cards to us even when we HAVEN'T celebrated there). My only disappointment EVER with Rover's has been in Thiery's decision to go prix-fixe only. We know his style enough to know which plates we'd like to focus on (have MORE of!) and since we're not HUGE eaters, nine or ten courses, even small ones, can be exhausting. (Also the baby, now almost thirteen, while crazy for roast chicken and steak frites and salade vert, does not begin to understand the French passions for foie gras, escargots, et. al., and won't go with us anymore!) One of the meals I had in the past few years included several courses featuring foie gras which God knows is one of my favorite ingredients and yet is not something I can polish off three or four times in one sitting! As an antidote to that kind of menu, I'd really recommend the vegetarian degustation (that doesn't look right without the accents!). Where the meat menu is sometimes carried by, and certainly ordered for, the seductive luxury ingredients like foie gras, pheasant, lobster, filet mignon, etc. (though always bathed in Thiery's incredible sauces), the vegetarian menu is where his real brilliance shines. There is no better vegetarian menu than Thiery's anywhere and no more creative chef with sometimes humble ingredients. The meat menu is brilliant decadence; the vegetarian one a spectacular revelation!
Though we haven't been as often to the Herbfarm, and not at all recently, it too is an incredible experience. When we first went it was lunchtime only experience and no alcohol was served which meant that some really wonderful herb-based beverages accompanied our meal. The soups are brilliant; I can still taste the nettle soup and a sorrel soup from another visit. I think each of them was served in a bowl shared with another soup, but I'm not recalling the details (Wait! Yes I am! The nettle soup shared its bowl with an amazing wild mushroom soup. . .). The palate cleansers, the breads and biscuits, the sorbets, all of it are wonderful experiments in flavor, as is ANY lamb course. As an herb enthusiast from way back, I haven't always appreciated the sometimes pedantic narrative accompanying each new dish (maybe they don't do that anymore), but clearly other guests did and maybe they too are now launched into herb heaven, especially since the release of Jerry Traunfeld's brilliant cookbook (check it out for hints about what you might be served at the restaurant)! The only thing I've ever been served at the Herbfarm that didn't bowl me over is the Douglas fir sorbet which struck me as what might result if you absentmindedly stuck your Pine-Sol in the freezer instead of under the sink!
SO. . .definitely give both of them a try! Save your money, go VERY easy on eating for a day or two before your reservation, and whether it's your birthday or anniversary or Valentine's or not, it will be absolutely be a special occasion!
(And just for the record, if you're intrigued by these two restaurants you really ought to give Le Gourmand a go. Similar French style to Rover's with the same brilliant use of herbs and superfresh local ingredients, most from his own garden just outside, as both Rover's and the Herbfarm. Bruce Naftaly has been around Seattle longer than either Thiery or Jerry, and has been consistently [and maybe too quietly!] delivering the same incredibly wonderful and imaginative cuisine for more than twenty years. A plus here is that the prix-fixe menu offers two or three choices for each course, AND the fixed price, though still not in the Cheap Eats category, is more affordable!)
Yikes! Even though you asked for more, I'm guessing this might have been more of a response than you were bargaining for! Hope some happy eating will result. . .
I would actually completely disagree. This year I went to the Inn at Langley twice - once in the winter and once in the spring. I also went to Rover's just a few weeks ago. The Inn at Langley had Rover's beat by a long shot. I *wanted* to love Rover's, but I got the impression that they are resting on their reputation instead of continuing a commitment to excellence. After the first few courses, I stopped allowing myself to get excited because it was too much of a let down. Maybe it was just a bad night.
At the Inn at Langley, every course was beautifully executed. I was surprised by the inventive flavor combinations and the food was perfectly prepared. I felt like I was getting the essence of each flavor and understanding why the foods matched so well. I'd go back there in a second - Rover's, not so much.
I would disagree again. Last year we went to the Inn at Langley for the first time and were prepared to be wowed. It was good, but not great (but the reputation is certainly good, and I would definitely return hoping for a 'wow'). This year we had two dinners at Rovers. Wow. They certainly aren't resting on the laurels of his reputation--this isn't stodgy stuff here. It's very modern and inventive. Really good.
Rover's is a dining experience unlike any other. Thierry Rautureau's personality and passion emminate throughout the entire place.
From the scrambled egg with white sturgeon caviar and lime or lemon creme fraiche to the pinot sorbet and everything in between is a piece of art.
The marriage of lobster and caviar is as illustrious as a couple celebrating their 25-year silver anniversary, speaking of 25-years, how about the crab cake in beets and 25-year-old balsamic vinegar?
The food is presented so beautifully I almost feel guilty consuming it. The orange zest curled as if to culminate the pinot sorbet with an accent or exlamation point, foie gras swimming in a black peppercorn sauce.
I know that $200 a person (including wine, tax and tip) doesn't sound like a bargain but considering the fine ingredients, it is a steal.
For the sheer food experience Rover's, Mistral and Lampreia are among my favorites.
Rover's is wonderful. My wife and I went on a recommendation from a vegetarian friend -- they do veg tasting menus -- but we found it a delight for meaties too. Service was gracious and friendly.
Can't say about HerbFarm (yet), though I had the pleasure of chatting up their soon-departed chef Mr. Traunfeld at a cooking class and was very impressed. I expect his standards are Keller-like.
As for others, get thee to Lark! (Early -- they don't take rezs.)
HERBFARM soooo over rated, great atmosphere, but the asssembly line serving experience with high mediocre to low/good food, go to four other restaurants and multiply your good times.
Each time my wife and I went to HERBFARM, we stayed at the wonderful Willows Lodge adjacent, but not affiliated, which has a good restaurant with great wines (The Barking Frog) itself.
Try the food at UNION (incredible) and you'll pay half without the Disney pretense.
In fact, the last time at HERBFARM, was my wife's 40th B-Day, and they managed to not only put her framed place card ( a nice touch, had it worked) in front of the guest's we invited, but it had the my friend's name on it and then they were so embarrassed they literally avoided us the rest of the night (5 hours is a long time to be avoided). It was somewhat annoying to wait for our 2nd course while watching others nearbye receive their 3rd course...and one course was forgotten altogether! (Which they acknowledged at the end of meal "applause-curtain call"!
HERBFARM used to be the ticket, now, it's rolling downhill.
Curious why you would go to Herbfarm several times ("each time my wife and I went...") if you thought it only serves mediocre to low/good food? especially at those prices? perhaps the last time you were there, chef Traunfeld was out. I will probably not be as enthusiastic about going back if Traunfeld has already left (but would gladly visit his new place, based on the food of his that i've had at Herbfarm). anybody know where he's setting up next?
Agree with the mention earlier of the irritating ongoing sales pitch at the Herbfarm. We were there last night and while there were a number of 'nice touches' and the food was good (Chef Traunfeld is still there until January), we were underwhelmed by the whole experience. My husband and I will try Rover's next time.