Steven Brown’s Tilia proves to be a welcome, unique addition to Linden Hills
Thank goodness Tilia has a bar and great beer selection.
My date and I decided to roll into Linden Hills’s newest affordable fine dining haunt around 8:30 p.m. Though it was a Saturday night and we were both hungry, we figured a late arrival would mean outlasting the weekend dinner rush and prompt seating, as Tilia doesn’t accept reservations.
The scope of our miscalculation became clear as we approached the door and heard the sound of many boisterous voices. All tables were full, the lobby packed with prospective patrons, bar seats occupied. For a few minutes there was nothing to do but stand and make desultory chit-chat about the enveloping mass of humanity, with one eye scouring for seats opening up belly-up.
Although we weren’t destined to find bar seating, a kindly couple, noticing our plight, offered to slide their chairs down, allowing each of us to prop one elbow on the bar and lean while facing each other and chatting. Roughly 90 minutes and a handful of high-quality craft beers later (in addition to a European-focused wine selection, Tilia features 21 taps, styles ranging from Russian Imperial Stout to American IPA — $5 to $8.50 pints), we were finally seated. Though it was well past 10 p.m. — the time at which the menu scales back to ‘late night’ fare — our waitress assured us we would be able to order from the dinner menu nonetheless.
Thankfully, the wait proved well worth it, as everything we ordered (sans dessert, which I’ll get to later) tasted great.
Tilia’s kitchen is led by renown Executive Chef and co-owner Steven Brown, formerly of Porter & Frye, Levain and The Loring Café. The menu and décor — casual and quaint, featuring counter seating allowing guests to observe the culinary staff at work — embodies a concept Brown dubbed “Brasserie Americana,” combining elements of fine dining with the feel of a neighborhood staple where everybody knows each other.
We queried our waitress about what items proved popular during Tilia’s first week of business, resulting in us ordering scallops ($13) and a small plate of squash caramelle pasta ($8). My date, apparently not in a adventurous spirit, opted for a turkey burger ($9).
The deliciously succulent scallops — served in a sweet curry sauce with carrots and marinated mushrooms — tasted so fresh I would’ve believed they were just caught just down the street in Lake Harriet. And though relatively unadorned (topped with charred onion and morbier) and served sans side, the turkey burger proved that Tilia’s cooks know how to prepare meat while preserving its natural juiciness and tenderness.
But perhaps the most interesting dish we tried was the squash caramelle pasta (including spinach, ricotta, prosciutto and dolce gorgonzola). The dish — which, as the ingredient list indicates, was quite rich — had a consistency a bit like chunky mashed potatoes, and was really completed by the unexpected sprinkling of walnuts on top. Representing a unique combination of ingredients and textures, the pasta was a great complement to the more straightforward (but nonetheless very tasty) flavors of the scallops and turkey burger.
In fact, the only disappointment of the evening came when we ordered a German chocolate cupcake ($7) for dessert. To be fair, by this time it was almost 1 a.m. and our waitress apologized for the fact that the majority of desserts were already sold out. Still, the cupcake was a bit dry and stiff, leading us to believe that it would’ve been best for all involved had it been sold a couple hours earlier as well.
All in all, with delicious food that transcends categorization, a quaint, comfortable atmosphere and (gasp!) a bar that stays open late, Tilia is a welcome addition to the Linden Hills neighborhood. But if you choose to check it out on a Saturday night, be warned — after a couple hours at the bar, you might be ruing the fact that the area doesn’t feature better cab service.
2726 W. 43rd St.