Want a romantic getaway near Seattle? I just tested one for you. My boyfriend and I went to celebrate our fourth year together at the Willows Lodge in Woodinville and coupled our getaway with dinner at The Herb Farm. If we had been really savvy we would have realized that Earth, Wind and Fire was performing at Chateau St. Michelle Winery right down the street (Woodinville is a wine center and St. Michelle has concerts all summer) and alas I only found out about the concert when we arrived - and there is no way you could go to both a concert and the nine course Herb Farm dinner!
So, here’s what’s romantic about the Willows-Herb Farm pairing. Everything.
The Willows is almost adjacent to the Herb Farm - an excellent location when you find yourself stumbling across to your lodgings after you have eaten and drunk more than you thought humanly possible. It is a very warm, welcoming kind of place with classic Northwest architecture but it does have more than it’s share of weddings in the summer, so you could find the lobby teaming with revelers. There is a “happening” kind of bar near the lobby (with a great wine selection) and a nice patio - but for a quiet moment, you’ll do best to go to a small sitting room on the second floor.
The lodge has two special Herb Farm suites (decorated by the owners of the restaurant) that look out on an intricate and fascinating herb garden of mass proportions. (The restaurant starts their dinner with an optional tour of the garden that I enjoyed way more than I thought I would). Our suite was very large with one of my main requirements for a romantic room - a two person tub. The decor was a bit much - you have got to like country decorating (leave no wall unadorned) but with comfortable chairs and a cozy couch and included thoughtful amenities (a carafe of Port, an additional bottle of very nice red wine, a generous tray of cheese, nuts, dried fruit). We loved our evening there, but I also went and saw the inn’s other rooms, which were more Northwest Lodge style, and also had fireplaces and two person bathtubs. I liked them a lot.
It’s hard to do justice to the dinner. It starts at seven (after the tour of the herb garden) and it goes on for three hours. The portions are perfectly plated and small, but there are nine of them. There is a wine for each course and if you drink it up, they add more. The room is beautiful, the table sparkles with five or six different kinds of wine glasses and decorative plates. The servers are all serious food people in apprenticeships and the owner and his wife help serve, explain and MC the rendition of what you are about to eat. We were there for one of their 26 different menus - The 100 Mile Dinner - which means everything (including the salt!) had to be made within a hundred miles of the dining room. It was inventive and the staff and chef were obviously challenged and excited by the assignment. (How do I know? They all gathered in front of us at the start of the dinner and told the room that this was the hardest of all their dinners to accomplish.) They were all so obviously thrilled to be there, sharing their craft and their passion, that we felt they were having just as good a time making this dinner as we were having eating it.
From the start, including the guided tour of the garden to an informal walk through their 4000 plus bottle wine cellar, we felt the personal hand, taste and desire for excellence of everyone involved with the Herb Farm. That alone was pretty impressive, but of course it wouldn’t matter if the execution of the evening didn’t match up to it’s ambitions. Happily, I can say every course was imaginative and delicious. (The menu is set but if you have dietary issues they will make sure your specific needs are met. In my case, I hate beets and told them over the phone when I made the reservation. No beet appeared on my side of the table).
So this is the perfect place to have a truly memorable evening. Everyone, from the owner to your servers, knows your name. There are no screaming babies to disrupt your intimate reverie. The dinner is pricey and it is adult. (The Willows is moderately to expensively priced, unless you book one of the Herb Garden suites, which are quite expensive).
If you are in Seattle or visiting Seattle, it’s about a 30 to 40 minute ride from downtown. Check it out for an anniversary, a place to pop the question (no, he didn’t) or just because you are in love. If you go the Herb Garden definitely stay overnight at the Willows. You will kick yourself if you don’t.