At a friend’s 30th surprise birthday party last week, I spent the majority of the night drooling, as I listened intently to the riveting raves of a friend’s recent visit to Tilia.
It’s no secret this Linden Hills gem is one of the hottest places to dine right now — if the near-perfect restaurant reviews weren’t your first clue, the constant long waits will certainly get your attention.
Still, I couldn’t help be somewhat hesitant. As I listened to my friend go into great detail about a seemingly simple salad and describe the flavors as if she were reenacting that memorable scene in “When Harry Met Sally,” I couldn’t help but wonder, is it really that good?
The few downsides I’d heard had nothing to do with the food. The service is sometimes slow, there’s no air conditioning and bring a book, ’cause you’re going to wait. Clearly not enough to keep me from trying a restaurant well on its way to becoming one of the best in Minneapolis.
So we went on a Thursday, around 9 p.m., thinking we’d try to cut down the wait as much as possible. There was still a 45-minute wait for a table but if we wanted, we could opt for the diner-style seating with a front-row view of the talent in the kitchen. Sold.
Since it was 9 p.m., the temperature inside the cozy restaurant was nice — especially considering we were hanging out near the hot, open flames. The atmosphere is great — there’s a ton of energy, plenty to watch and the constant bustle creates a steady buzz throughout the establishment.
I could barely contain myself as our waitress came over and asked if we wanted anything to start off the meal. Everything under the “It’s Nice To Share” portion of the menu looks and sounds divine. But before we got carried away, we ordered the Faux Gras and asked to keep the menus, just in case.
The Faux Gras here is a chicken liver custard that’s a gorgeous pink shade and oh-so silky smooth. It comes with eggplant preserves, a few pieces of bacon (yay, bacon!) and of course, crispy, grilled bread. The perfect bite — a bite so good I pounded my fist on the table — was a little bit of everything, starting with the custard, then a tiny piece of bacon and a little bit of preserves stacked on top of the crispy, crunchy bread.
For the next course, I ordered the Gem Lettuce Salad, which is deceivingly simple looking but jam-packed with goodness. Smeared with creamy goat cheese, topped with spring radishes and mixed with a not-too-sweet sherry vinaigrette, this salad is packed with freshness and agrees completely with its charming menu header, “Yes, this salad is quite nice.”
We order the squash caramelle pasta and the slow-roasted pork tenderloin, and can’t help but order a side of leeks. Before the food arrives, I realize I’m somewhat shocked at how much I’m enjoying my $4 glass of Armand Roux, a French white wine that is truly refreshing on a hot, summer night.
When the entrees arrive, I nearly let out a squeal. The squash pasta looks like a plate of art with perfect pockets of fresh pasta, garnished with small cuts of squash and prosciutto, and dripping in gorgonzola. One bite in and I’m in heaven. It’s one of those dishes that certainly needs to be enjoyed slowly — swirling each luscious bite to let every flavor hit your palate and fully register. Not to mention, it’s quite a rich dish and eating it any faster would be far too much to take in.
The pork tenderloin was cooked to perfection with a sauce that truly elevated the natural flavors of the pork. All that really needs to be said here is: Maple Cider Vinegar. I nearly licked the plate clean. Plus, the pork tenderloin is served with caramelized Brussels sprouts that are so good they make you wonder why you’ve hated that vegetable so much since childhood.
And let’s not forget that side of vinaigrette-drenched leeks we ordered. They were fabulous and made me completely agree with my co-worker Adam’s assessment that he could eat them every day. With pleasure.
We were warned to save room for dessert but alas, it just wasn’t possible. I tried to leave a little space but then quickly filled it with the remaining leeks. Ah well, there’s always next time — and believe me, there will be a next time.
Tilia is located at 2726 W. 43rd St. in Minneapolis. For more information, check out their website.