Our last meal at Tilia was enjoyable in some ways, not so enjoyable in others. And while I ended that review by saying I could see us returning at some point, it took four and a half years for that to actually happen—and that on account of a mistake. I had planned to take a friend who was visiting from India to dinner at Tenant—the successor restaurant to the late, lamented Piccolo—but when we arrived there, we discovered, to my chagrin, that I had somehow in fact made a reservation for the middle of June! And they had no room for us. Casting about for a place in the relative vicinity, I called Tilia and they said they had enough space. And so off we went. Alas, being able to get a table at short notice was one of the few highlights of the meal.
It’s not that anything was bad; everything was in fact decent at worst. But most of it was unremarkable—there was only one dish that the two of us wanted any more of. The room was way too loud—the acoustics are really terrible: even with the doors open and the restaurant not full, it was hard for the two of us to hear each other across a small table. As I recall, from our last meal, it’s worse in the winter and on a weekend night. And the meal was way too expensive for what it was.
But before I get to the service and the price, here is what we ate.
Tilia offers far more small plates than it does entrees (11 small plates plus sandwiches vs. six entrees on the current menu). We got three of these to share:
- STRIPED BASS CRUDO, AVOCADO, PISTACHIO & LIME: This was okay. The flavours were nice but the fish was unremarkable and the avocado too chunky. Not very balanced in terms of texture.
- SHRIMP, PEAS, FERMENTED BLACK BEAN, SPICY SCAMPI SAUCE & GRILLED SCALLION: This was dynamite. The shrimp was cooked perfectly and the sauces beneath (featuring pea puree and Sichuan-style black bean) were excellent. Hands-down the best thing we ate and one of the best things I’ve eaten in the Twin Cities recently.
- PAN ROASTED CAULIFLOWER, GREEN CURRY, PICKLED CARROT & COCONUT: The cauliflower was cooked very well but the only interesting thing on the plate was the pickled carrot atop the cauliflower. I’m not sure what made this green curry a green curry and the coconut component was also not very coconutty. We enjoyed the cauliflower a lot more by dredging it in the remnants of the sauces under the shrimp.
On to the larger plates:
- MONKFISH, RED CABBAGE, GRAPEFRUIT & CELERY ROOT: The accompaniments were nice, the fish was boring and verging on dry.
- SALMON, TOMATILLO-AVOCADO SALSA, CHARRED ASPARAGUS, HOLLANDAISE: This was a special (I’ve reconstructed the name from memory of the server’s description of the dish). The salmon was cooked very well, if not very attractively presented (in two rough chunks, basically). The best thing on the plate was the tomatillo salsa. The hollandaise (with harissa, I think—don’t quote me) was nice but there was way too much of it.
There were only three on the night and only one caught our fancy.
- CHOCOLATE TART, PRETZEL, SMOKED SALT, CARAMEL: This was tasty enough but nothing I haven’t eaten a hundred times before. Well, I’m not sure I’ve eaten it with smoked salt before but a) I don’t know why the salt needs to be smoked and b) it didn’t make much of a difference that it was smoked.
For pictures of these dishes—the pictures are the one consistent improvement over the last meal—please launch the slideshow below. Scroll down
We had three glasses of wine between the two of us: Domaine La Vista, Graines Meles Rouge 2014, a nice grenache blend from Cotes du Roussillon. Service was amiable, if not particularly polished: two people showed up separately to take our order; later when we asked for details on a particular dish, the server did not know the answer and never came back to tell us what it was.
And so, the question of value: all of this came to about $175 with tax and tip. Which was probably at least $50 too high for the quality of what we ate. Indeed, I see that in 2013, with the same amount of wine, we’d paid $130. Sure, that was four and a half years ago, but that still seems like the right cost for this meal. At this price, I cannot recommend Tilia for dinner; brunch may be a different matter. Certainly, I don’t think I’ll be back. Though if somebody were to drag me there, I’d probably ask for a double order of the shrimp for my main course and would suggest you do the same.