Last week, the winds blew me into Minneapolis to reunite with my soul sister Michelle at a fascinating conference on ancient alien theory.
A longtime buyer in the high-fashion world, Mich left the grind of show floors, runways, and international jet-setting to pursue a simpler life in Mexico, where I too had ventured to seek refuge from a much less glamorous but nonetheless grueling life in corporate marketing. We met about a year ago in Puerto Morelos, our beloved second home, and became fast friends.
The hotel in Minneap left something to be desired for two culturally curious young ladies, so it was our extreme luck that Jackie, another fashionista whom Mich had met in Puerto, had just moved back to the Twin Cities after a bout in New York as personal stylist to none other than Miss Martha Stewart. Jackie whisked us away from our hotel room confines and up to the door of her favorite local spot, Tilia.
If I had to describe Tilia in one word, it would be “warm,” and I don’t mean that the heater was on blast. The interior was a mix of woods, bronze, caramels, and deep reds, and while dressed up and stylish, it invoked the comforting sense of home or of your best friend’s beautiful den. Natural light flooded in from a wall of windows accented by funky, soft overhead lighting, and an open kitchen and craft brew bar encouraged an intimate dining experience. Our waiter sat right down next to us like an old friend, shooting the breeze and recommending libations.
I went for a housemade iced chai, creamy and spicy and everything I’d hoped it would be. Mich and Jackie went with coffee and cappuccino, which I couldn’t help noticing were accompanied by the most beautiful, seemingly hand-crafted sugar cubes I’ve ever seen. Rustic, oddly shaped, and rough around the edges, they came in natural and white and immediately cued an attention to detail that would color the rest of the meal.
To be sure, everything we ordered was noteworthy. Roasted Brussels sprouts with ham and walnuts and spicy braised kale with golden raisins and fried peanuts best illustrated the kitchen’s philosophy: simple comfort with a hint of pretense-free sophistication. Their motto is “Good food tastes good.” The website proclaims, “Peace. Love. Truth. Music. Relaxation. Flavor. We’re down with these things.” Nothing was over $12.
Our main dishes really brought it all home. Michelle ordered a butternut soup, which the waiter poured over an arrangement of brown butter, bacon cream, globules of maple vinegar, and delicate strips of something crunchy (maybe fried onion?.) The whole thing was finished with a dropperful of parsley sage oil. I shouldn’t have to tell you how flavortastic that soup was.
Jackie opted for shrimp with fresh and pureed peas in a spicy scampi sauce, elegantly draped with grilled scallion. It was a smallish plate, maybe four shrimp in all, but she didn’t seem to mind at all.
Mine was incredible: polenta gnocchi (right?! What a great idea!) with a red pepper and Picholine olive jam on a bed of wilted spinach, garnished with streaks of black garlic puree (swoon) and crunchy fried hominy (pictured at the top of the page.) The gnocchi were much lighter than their traditional potato counterparts: fluffly little cornmeal dumplings seared and crispy on one side. You can’t be a sectional eater with this plate in front of you. Properly assembled bites are a must.
All in all, it was a happy little meal and a table packed full of comforting flavors and smells—a much welcomed departure from the stale and uninspired air common to all too many hotels. We were just about ready to get down on our knees and kiss Miss Jackie’s chic grey wedge boots for the excellent choice of field trip.
If you’re in the Twin City area, I highly recommend you stop by Tilia even if just for a local craft brew or coffee with amazing sugar cubes. I dare you to walk away without ordering something though. Good food smells just as good as it tastes, and the intoxicating aromas wafting from the open kitchen would be a crime to ignore.
2726 West 43rd Street
Minneapolis, MN 55410