Food & Drink

Renewal at the Farm Table

Enjoy spring's bounty at these Pacific Northwest farm-to-table restaurants

By Alicia Erickson April 30, 2024

A person in a black shirt and jeans holding a black tray of freshly harvested orange carrots in a lush garden during farm renewal.

Slow food is a celebration of seasons, a reflection of the rhythm of nature as vegetation and animals move through the cycle of slumber, revitalization, and springing back to life, and the many moments in between. 

Slow food goes beyond the plate and reflects the human experience. As days become longer and warmer, our bodies crave lighter, fresher meals and more time outside. Although farm-to-table has become a tired term in the culinary world, when done right, the concept of eating seasonally is anything but tired. It is an ode to nature and a love letter to the ever-changing pocket climates of distinct regions. 

In the Pacific Northwest, spring brings the early beginnings of new life. It is a fleeting yet fruitful season as the long, damp winters of the Northwest slowly warm up and dry out, yet embody the misty, lush terrain characteristic of the region. Greens begin to grow, halibut and salmon return to the rivers, lamb graze on fresh grass, and flowers bloom in abundance. This also means innovation in kitchen. 

At Washington and Oregon eateries where chefs work in step with nature and source directly from their own farms, discover why spring is a time of renewal — and might just be the most exciting season for dining in the Northwest straight from the vines. 

 

Herbfarm

Celebrate spring at The Herbfarm in Woodinville, with farm-fresh creations from the end of April to mid June.

Photo courtesy of The Herbfarm

For a taste of spring in western Washington, head to Woodinville for the Herbfarm’s Revelry for Spring from April 25-June 16. The Herbfarm has lived in Woodinville for decades. What started as a small garden eventually grew into a several acre farm and restaurant. The two continue to ebb and flow with the seasons, penning poems to the Pacific Northwest throughout the year with hyper seasonal creations. 

 

Savor the Pacific Northwest with ingredients sourced directly from the region’s mountains, forests, farms, and seas.

Photo courtesy of The Herbfarm

Each menu goes beyond the traditional four seasons and syncs with the micro seasons of the Pacific Northwest and the bounties that comes from its mountains, forests, farms, and sea. “Spring is a season of green,” says Chris Weber, Herbfarm’s chef. “Lots of arugula, lettuce, crests, and herbs. The tender herbs that don’t do well in winter, all of a sudden you have pounds of them and can use them with a heavy hand.”

Another defining characteristic of spring is spontaneity. A complete unpredictability of what will be available tomorrow or the next week. “Spring is where art and craft meet at their best,” Weber adds. “Art is in the idea of the dish, in the season where we’re energized by the new ingredients of the season and the changes it brings.” 

Radishes, morel and porcini mushrooms, salmon, and shellfish are some of the ingredients that will inspire the ever-changing menu of Revelry for Spring, which looks different each day during its seven-week life. Before sitting down for your meal, take a walk through Herbfarm’s onsite garden to see and taste what’s in bloom straight from the vine. 

 

Orchard Kitchen

Orchard Kitchen on Whidbey Island strives to celebrate the day’s harvest with every meal.

Photo courtesy of Orchard Kitchen

 

On the southern part of Whidbey Island, husband and wife team, Vincent and Tyla Nattress, live and work on multiple acres of farm and fruit trees. Here, at Orchard Kitchen, food is as seasonal as it gets. Fruits, vegetables, and all sorts of other fresh bounties are picked straight from the vines for that day’s meal.

Chef and co-owner Vincent Nattress in the kitchen.

Photo courtesy of Orchard Kitchen

 

Orchard Kitchen will celebrate its ninth anniversary this coming July, but the farm on which it operates has been around since 1914, resulting in nutrient-rich soil. A true farm-to-table isn’t easy. It involves a constant familiarization with the land, the soil, and the seasons. The Nattress’ rotate the crops to heal the soil and are in the process of turning some of the farm into permaculture. The result is a deep synchronization with nature — and, of course, eating better. “We pour a lot of love into the land in order to produce really great food,” Vincent says. Tyla is the wine connoisseur, pairs balanced vintages with each course and incorporating wines from Whidbey Island’s local vineyard, Spoiled Dog, when possible.  

Orchard Kitchen brings the freshness of spring to your plate with bounty picked straight from the garden.

Photo courtesy of Orchard Kitchen

The story told at Orchard Kitchen is one of what is happening here and now. Guests experience the exact moment of nature on their plates. Right now, asparagus is the star of the show. These edible flowers are squeaky when picked fresh and last for about seven weeks. They are the perfect partner to another product of spring: eggs. Both are making frequent appearances at Orchard Kitchen at the moment. 

Hakurei turnips, fresh arugula and spinach, nettle pasta, halibut, and shellfish are also working their way onto spring plates, an ode to a time when so much is coming back to life. “Bees coming out, days get longer, trees that were once bare are now green and springing to life,” Tyla says. “Everyone feels it and wants to experience the magic of the season. It’s a season of renewal.” 

Left: Bell’s Farm beef carpaccio with nettle pesto and round bale grissini, akin to upscale Cheez-Its, paired with pickled saffron radishes. Right: Roasted Skagit “Tubby” oysters garnished with their own pancetta, pecorino, and lemon.

Photo courtesy of Orchard Kitchen

 

 

ōkta

Interior of a sophisticated bar with dark wood furnishing, round farm tables, and a wall-mounted wine rack, dimly lit for ambiance.

The cellar at ōkta hosts special tastings, pop-ups, and collaborations.

Photo courtesy of ōkta

In the heart of McMinnville, Ore., grab a seat at ōkta, a dining experience closely attuned to the unique and abundant microclimate of the Willamette Valley. Ōkta’s story starts on a 70-acre farm outside of town, which sits among grazing paddocks, vineyards, forest, and wildlife corridors, creating a sustainable and vibrant biodiversity influenced by the Cascade Mountains and Columbia River. 

A professional chef focuses on preparing a dish in a modern farmhouse kitchen with two assistants working in the background.

Chef Matthew Lightner crafts dishes inspired by the Pacific Northwest.

Photo by Aaron Lee

Chef Matthew Lightner wanted to tell a new kind of food story and specifically one through the lens of the Pacific Northwest and the Willamette Valley. “It has always been the goal of mine to cook within the rhythm of nature,” Lightner says. “The best creativity comes from having that much awareness. The farm is a natural part of the process and provides things you just can’t buy.” 

Lightner and his team start planning in late November for the coming year on their farm and in their lab. But it’s really up to Mother Earth to determine what lands on the daily menu. Each morning, Lightner walks the farms and trails to see what’s happening. The timeliness of the menu rings particularly true during the unpredictable spring months. “Spring is super fleeting,” Lightner says. “We have this long, cool winter but what we do see is an abundance of flowers from cherry blossoms, magnolias, and they often only last a couple of weeks.” 

Aerial view of a rural farm landscape showing cultivated fields, greenhouses, and a warehouse, surrounded by dense forests and rolling hills undergoing renewal.

The farm features an open air fermentation lab and larder to capture native microbiology.

Photo courtesy of ōkta

A chef uses tweezers to delicately plate thinly sliced truffles on a farm table, with a tray of more truffles nearby.

The McMinnville eatery’s spring menu kicked off on April 11. Wild ginger, nettle, greens, asparagus, morel mushrooms, flowers, chrysanthemum, and rhubarb will all make appearances on the menu that evolves daily throughout this season, among the many other surprises that spring brings. Ōkta — meaning a meteoritical scale of cloud coverage — is the embodiment of the here and now of the region, an ode to the filtered light and cloud coverage that set the region apart. 

Beautiful dishes showcase spring, capturing the essence of the Willamette Valley.

Photo courtesy of ōkta

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