The co-owner and mastermind behind the Herbfarm restaurant, the most elusive reservation in the Pacific Northwest, knew enough to alert the telephone company before he began taking calls in April for his first summer seating in more than two years. Once, when he announced a call for reservations, more than 100,000 Herbfarm devotees jammed North Seattle's lines in a matter of minutes, overloading circuits and triggering the telecommunications equivalent of a brownout.
When I arrived at restaurateur Ron Zimmerman's office at noon on the second day of the latest call-in to see what all the fuss was about, I found him and his staff still struggling to keep up with eight ever-ringing phones. There was already a waiting list for the next six months--quite an achievement, considering that at this point the restaurant still had no tables. Or chairs, or china, or crystal or silverware. Not so much as a scrimshawed napkin ring. Everything--including an exceptionally rare bottle of 1896 port from the cellar of British Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone--had been lost in January 1997, when an early evening electrical fire destroyed Zimmerman's four-star restaurant. At the time it occupied an elegantly appointed garage, if you can imagine such a thing, on the tranquil grounds of a dairy and berry farm turned herb garden in Fall City, Washington, a sleepy town with a river running through it, 22 miles east of Seattle on the western edge of the Cascade Mountains.
For more than two years, efforts to rebuild on the site have been stymied, first by locals who opposed the idea of a six-suite country "Inn at The Herbfarm" that would be attached to the restaurant (a key component of Zimmerman's vision), and then by endless red tape. This is why the reopened Herbfarm Restaurant will be serving dinner in the barrel-aging room of Hedges Cellars, a winery off Interstate 90 in nearby Issaquah that has neither a garden nor an inn and is flanked by gas stations and strip malls.