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Nine Courses, Four Hours

For most of the last decade the Herbfarm restaurant, in rural Fall City, Wash., was so popular that its reservation line was open only two days a year. If you couldn't get through on those days, your only chance of securing a table was lining up in the event of a rare cancellation.

In 1997 fire destroyed the restaurant and for the most part of the last four years it has operated in a building at the Hedges Cellars winery in nearby Issaquah, about 20 miles east of Seattle. In early MAy, trhe owners, Ron Zimmerman and Carrie Van Dyck, moved their kitchen to the nearby town of Woodinville, just northeast of Seattle, on the grounds of the Willows Lodge, a hotel and spa.

Although not nearly so bucolic as the original -- the hotel property resembles a condominium complex -- the new Herbfarm maintains its amiable, celebratory spirit.

The airy new dining room is double the size of the original, seating 52, and is festooned with pastoral artwork and wrapped in a hand-painted colorful folkloric border. Tables face a magnificent tile-lined kitchen where a dozen natty, cheerful cooks tend to the stoves.

The acclaimed chef of 11 years, Jerry Traunfeld, serves a nine-course, five wine prix-fixe dinner over four to five hours. Fresh herbs lots of them, find their way onto every plate.

Mr. Traunfeld's winsome, tightly focused food is as vibrant as ever, and some dishes are particularly memorable: pan-fried mussels on rosemary skewers, Montana paddlefish caviar on a sharp wild-ginger flan, herb marinated king salmon with a three pea salad, and a sensational dessert combining warm lavendat-almond cake with local bing cherries.

Half an hour before dinner the owners conduct a tour of the splendid herb garden.

The Herbfarm, 14590 NE 145th Street, Woodinville, Wash., (206) 784-2222, serves dinner Thursday to Saturday at 7 p.m.; Sunday dinner begins at 4:30 p.m. The prix fixe, not including tax and tip is 4149 on Thursday, $159 on Friday and Sunday and $169 on Saturday. Telephone reservations are now accepted daily, or you can inquire at www.theherbfarm.com.

Two rooms are available for overnight stays, at $325 during the week and $400 on Friday and Saturday.p>There are those who'd consider a $700 seat at a baseball game or a $500 fly-over in a B-17 not only outrageous, but obscene. Just as there are diners who who might say the same thing about the lengthy highly-orchestarated, eat-what-we-serve-you meal at the Herbfarm. I can't speak for baseball fans or for aviation buffs, but as a lover of great food and wine, my money's on the Herbfarm.