Here’s what Frank Bruni wrote about Tilth. But, by all means, visit The New York Times Web site to get the full story. There’s also an interactive feature that allows you to listen to Bruni talk about his experience at Tilth.
Did I let in a draft? Should I take off my shoes?
As I stepped into Tilth, I felt as if I were dropping by somebody’s home, not entering a restaurant.
There’s no proper vestibule, no host stand. And the tables — for only 40 diners — are squished together in two downstairs rooms of a Craftsman-style bungalow with a humble fireplace in which squat, fat candles flicker.
That’s a big part of what distinguishes and recommends this sweet, sweet restaurant, but Tilth, whose name refers to tilled earth, also boasts an organic certification — from the exacting Oregon Tilth association.
That doesn’t mean that everything Tilth serves is organic, because wild fish and foraged mushrooms, for example, aren’t eligible for such designation. But the restaurant is consistently finicky about its suppliers, and that was abundantly clear in meaty, juicy, snowy slices of albacore tuna, pan-seared, oil-glossed and served with celery root in various forms: a purée, crisp wedges like French fries.
Maria Hines, Tilth’s owner and chef, pays more than lip service to the adjectives local and seasonal, and she has created a restaurant that’s very much of its moment, not only in its attention to food miles but also in its menu structure. Every savory dish can be ordered in a half or full portion, so diners can build a meal from a succession of small plates.
Ms. Hines is an inspired cook. Because she smokes the flageolet and cranberry beans in her sensational vegetarian cassoulet ($12/$24) and tops them with toasted bread crumbs thickened with truffle butter, diners have been fooled into believing there are bacon bits afoot.
Her squash risotto ($12/$24) is another dish that’s none the worse for being meatless, thanks to the mascarpone and pine nuts in the mix.
Tilth reaps the bounty of regional waters: the tuna; sockeye salmon ($14/$25); Penn Cove mussels ($12/$23), which were served in a zippy, zesty broth of pork sausage, paprika and green onion. It turns to “pasture raised” beef for its pan-seared flatiron steak ($15/$29), a robust, flavorful dish.
But there’s a self-satisfaction about Tilth that seemed to inform — rather, infect — a few servers, who sometimes acted as if they knew what was best for me. One of them, entrusted with choosing the dishes for my group, made decisions that showed he hadn’t really listened to our clearly stated preferences. Another chided us for asking that our French chenin blanc, from a solid list that wisely doesn’t confine itself to local output, be put on ice.
Their behavior was incongruous at a restaurant with an otherwise generous spirit, reflected on its Web site, which volunteers the recipe for Tilth’s signature bourbon hot chocolate ($9). It includes chopped cardamom pods and dark chocolate from, of course, a Seattle chocolate maker, and it’s a finishing touch at once apt and outrageously good.
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