Seattle: compare Mistral and Herbfarm, or?
Hi there! I have never been to Herbfarm, but I decided to write in defense of Mistral. My husband and I hosted a dinner for 40 guests in early July (2005) and the food and wine pairings were amazing. This was our first dining experience at Mistral and we were not disappointed. The most memorable courses were the maine sea scallop in sweet corn and chanterelle soup and the hudson valley fois gras with roasted pineapple, nectarine puree and crispy apple. In addition to the wonderful food, we love the small, intimate, peaceful space with gorgeous natural light that one would expect from a place like Seattle- unpretentious, modern and benevolent.
IMO, The Herbfarm is really a novelty. The dining room is decorated in a way over-the-top faux victorian style that is annoying to my senses. The food is good but they seem to try too hard to make herbs a part of everything. And the "dog and pony show" they do during every meal was more than could stand.
I haven't been to Mistral in over a year so I can't speak to its current situation.
As for places I would consider equal or better: Lampreia is someplace to consider. But number one on my list has got to be Union.
I wouldn't say that Mistral is the top rated restaurant in Seattle, or even in it's neighborhood. I think that Lampreia a couple of blocks to the north is better for food and service, Union a quarter mile to the south is much more innovative and exciting, Restaurant Zoe around the corner is more hip, and the Pike Place Market restaurants (Campagne, Chez Shea, Maximilien, Place Pigalle) in their variety are infinitely more interesting. Separate from all of this is that I've heard some unsettling things lately about Mistral. Nothing that I want to go into detail about, so take it with a grain of salt, but serious enough to make me not go there. Why, with all of the talent in the immediate area?
Now, the Herbfarm is an event. The fact that it is out in the middle of nowhere adds to the allure for me. Kind of like a northwest 'Inn at Little Washington'. I went when it was in its transitional spot in Issaquah, between the original Fall City location and the newer Woodinville spot. You have to get there, but that means that you get a little break from everything to think, 'This will be special.' They change the menu weekly, I believe, and they use things that the rest of the fancy restaurants in the area dream about serving to the public. If you sign up to eat, then they serve you seaweed, what are you gonna do? You're gonna love it. I ate fried maple tree blossoms when I was there, and will probably never eat them again, simply because no one else has the desire, or knowledge, to tackle them. I can remember almost every dish from my visit five years ago, what they looked like, how they tasted. It's expensive, it's out of the way, some of the dinner service is pretentious (like drawing red velvet curtains across the exhibition kitchen midway through the meal, then introducing the entire staff to the diners, dishwashers included. 'This is Jimmy, he's almost finished with high school, he likes baseball, and he can really clean a plate.'), and no matter what
you will not forget the experience. Go there.
Chuck - I'm very curious about your vague comments about Mistral... I've been dining at Mistral for the past 4 yeears on a regular basis. Neither the food nor the service ever disappointed me.
Would you mind sharing details about "unsettling" things you heard about? First hand experience or "heard"?
I have only been to Mistral, but will tell you my thoughts. The Herbfarm is way out in Woodinville, a good 20 miles NE of Seattle while Mistral is near downtown. Mistral has a menu and you have choices for some courses, they will also accomodate dietary issues and personal tastes. You may choose a 5, 7, or 9 course tasting menu with or without matching wines. Herbfarm has a fixed menu including wine and a fixed price usually a minimum of $160 per person. Even if one is underage the price is the same and they serve you grape juice.
Back in the day, when the Herbfarm was in Fall City it was a much more intimate experience. Now I would say pass on it.
Check out their websites: www.theherbfarm.com
Hopefully this will help you make your decision. IMHO save your money and gas and go to Mistral.
Another notable restaurant to consider is Rovers in this price point and style. http://www.rovers-seattle.com/