Sunday, January 4, 2015

Tilia, Minneapolis, Minnesota

The Kitchen at Tilia Restaurant in Linden Hills, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Dining alone can be a bit uncomfortable.  After all, when I'm alone I have no one to entertain me.  And reading or texting while waiting for the meal to come makes me seem antisocial.  But, on occasion, dining alone can also be fun.  At least, that was my experience at Tilia Restaurant in Minneapolis.  

It doesn't happen often but occasionally I travel alone for work.  When I go out of state, I multi-task my trips and combine my day job as a lawyer with my hobby as a food blogger.  If you follow my Pinterest pinboard, you'll see that I've pinned a list of buzz-worthy Minneapolis restaurants.  Tilia was listed as one of the 50 Best Restaurants for 2014 in Minneapolis St. Paul Magazine.  The list is compiled in part by celebrity chef and Minnesota native Andrew Zimmern, so Tilia's inclusion is a big honor.  Located in the cozy residential area of Linden Hills, this small eatery has been open for only three years and has developed a loyal following in that short time.  After dining there, I now know why.

The restaurant admits its space is small, holding only 40 patrons at a time.  So, reservations are not taken.  That is often a problem for groups of any size.  But the solo or coupled diner has two good seating options:  the traditional bar or the chef's countertop.  As a very inquisitive foodie, you can take a guess where I chose to sit.  The chef's countertop offered a coveted front row seat of all the kitchen action.  From that vantage point, I eagerly watched the cooks prepare plates, toss pastas, sear filets and dress salads.  And the quick pace of the kitchen was highly palpable.  The cooks in front of me volleyed shorthand commands to each other while tracking orders and answering occasional questions from myself and other onlookers.  No one in the kitchen missed a beat.  It was a definitely quite the show ... followed then by a great meal.  

As a solo diner, the Tilia menu was a bit intimidating at first.  Apart from a few entrees, it appears that most of the menu contemplates sharing among friends.   But small plates shouldn't be a conundrum for the solo diner.  They are an invitation to taste a variety of dishes without overwhelming one's palate and gorging one's stomach.  And when asked politely enough, I don't turn down an invitation to enjoy good food.   That night at Tilia, I had three great small plates to enjoy.  All plates an homage to my princess Anna.  She must have been heavy on my mind.  

Raddichio salad with dolce gorgonzola, currants, radishes, chive blossoms and sunflower seeds

Chive blossoms
I like a good salad with an eclectic mix of textures and tastes, and the radicchio salad is one that I certainly enjoyed.  The mix of radicchio, currants, sunflower seeds, sweet gorgonzola and chive blossoms got my curiosity going ... my taste buds too.  Not only did it taste good - the crisp and blended flavors, sweet and slightly sharp - it looked good too.  It's just too bad Anna wasn't with me to take in these tiny, yet beautiful, chive blossoms.  She'd have loved it.

She'd have loved the cavatelli carbonara too.  A beautiful handrolled pasta tossed with local seasonal vegetables, cooked al dente and topped with a unique egg yolk custard.  Salty salume, subtle sharp parmesan, and tart scallion offset by the creamy yolk and buttered pasta.  This dish too would have been right up Anna's alley.  Just looking upon it I knew it would be perfect for my little Italian!

Housemade cavatelli with salume, zucchini, parmesan and scallion topped with an egg yolk custard

But what Anna would have loved most would have been the escargot.  She's been dying to try this French delicacy for a very long time.  She actually has yet to do so.  And while some might have considered my ordering this in her absence somewhat of a taunt, I will always believe I did it for her with love.  The truth is that I hadn't had escargot in years myself, not since I was in college.  I'd forgotten what it was like. And before I let Anna have her first taste, I needed to reacquaint myself.

I know the idea of eating snails is off-putting for some, but I don't quite understand why.  We eat a lot of other things that are equally strange without the same trepidation.  Don't we?  Oysters, clams, mussels are all equally odd, right?  And some of these we'll even eat raw!  Need I say sushi anyone?  So snails shouldn't be at all intimidating for even the most novice of food lovers.

Escargot with grilled bread

Prepared the best way, this dish came out all yummy and piping hot.  I'm glad I saved it for last.  Each little snail was nicely cooked, surrounded in buttery creamy cheesy goodness to complement their earthy flavor.  Some of you might be cringing imaging what it might be like biting into one of these little suckers (no pun intended).  But if you've ever bitten into a nice firm cremini mushroom (and many of you probably have), it's really not that different.  In fact, I find that these nice little gems have a knack of soaking up flavor just as nicely as our little fungi friends.  I'd long forgotten why escargot is such a delicacy and it was really nice to be reminded.  And now I can say with confidence that I know Anna will love it too.  It's just going to be a challenge finding a place that prepares this treat just as well.  Maybe one day I'll bring Anna to the Twin Cities so she can enjoy the Tilia experience too.

Tilia on Urbanspoon


  1. Great article!! I am agree with you that dining alone can be an uncomfortable as well as awkward at times. That’s why, whenever I visit to local San Francisco restaurants here, I prefer to go with my buddies.

    1. Thanks so much for the feedback and for the link to SF restaurants! Hope to make it out west to try some of these!