Saturday, December 8, 2012

Tilia for Lunch and Political Gossip

I was introduced to this fantastic restaurant in South Minneapolis on Thursday. It was so good that I invited a friend to meet me there again yesterday. I knew he’d like it.
by Charlie Leck

“Maybe this is obvious to everyone, but I think it's only perceived and understood by close, careful observers – folks who understand some of the subtleties of party politics.”

I said this to a friend of mine and he nearly gagged on the glass of wine he was sipping.

“What? How can you call this subtle? Anyone who opens any kind of significant national newspaper can see what’s going on.”

I guess, in my mind, his statement proves my point. How many people, in terms of percentages, are going to sit down every day to give the news, opinion and political sections of the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times a careful reading? I’m weird in that regard.

“You know, Leck,” he replied with a bit of fire in his eyes, “you really are a snob!”

He paused and took a deep breath. It was as if he was trying to get himself under control before he said something for which he would be sorry; however, I thought he’d already gone beyond that mile-marker when he called me a snob. After all, I’d already assured him that I was picking up the tab.

He took another sip of the wine and then he looked around the little restaurant where we were dining, to see how many people might be within ear shot.

“You, shit! I don’t have to read the New York Times everyday to understand that the standard, loyal Republicans in Congress are at war with the Tea Party.”

His face was red and his eyes seemed on fire. I couldn’t understand why he was so upset. After all, I hadn’t said anything in an absolute manner. I had even begun my comment about being a rather astute political observer with the admission that “maybe this is obvious to everyone.”

My friend was downing one of the wonderful mussels from the bowl in the middle of the small table. We were lunching at a restaurant to which I’d just been introduced  – Tilia, in the Linden Hills neighborhood of Minneapolis. It had been so wonderful that I arranged an immediate follow-up luncheon to retest it. It was passing with flying colors, as they say. I tried to think of any restaurant in the city that had ever pleased my pallet as much as this one.

It was too wonderful here to be getting into an argument. He was enjoying the mussels. He had already raved about them. I was eating a killer salad.

Tilia is supposed to be a Latin reference to the Linden tree. Clever! Here we were, on 43rd Street in Linden Hills, between two beautiful city lakes and only fifteen minutes or so from downtown. Take a look at the restaurant’s web page if you want to read about some of the romance of the place.

Here, however, is what I care about the most: The food is knock-out wonderful! Someone in the little eatery knows how to mingle flavors with flavors so that they complement each other. Take the little bowl of brussels sprouts we were sharing. I’d had them here the day before, too, and couldn’t pass on munching on them again. Unbelievable! The best I’ve ever eaten. I figure they were roasted in some kind of masterful juices and flavorings. They were served with big chunks of delicious walnuts that had also been roasted and little bits of delicate, scrumptious ham.

I reached for one of the mussels and looked my buddy right in the eye.

“So, you agree with me that the traditional Republicans are involved in a bit of a war with the Tea Party folk.”

He was nibbling on a piece of the grilled flatbred that he’d dipped in olive oil and a dukka dip (our guess was that it was sesame seeds, coriander, cumin, hazelnuts all mixed with pepper, thymne and salt). The day before I’d had the gravlax that had been served with shallots, fish roe, creamy butter and small, delicate pieces of crisp, black rye bread. On this day I had gone for the Faux Gras – a little custard of chicken liver, with eggplant preserves and small chunks of grilled bread.

Honest to God, I thought to myself, this has got to be the best restaurant in town. Not that I’ve eaten in all of them, mind you. There are plenty I’ve yet to try, but I couldn’t imagine that any will top the marvelous flavors that this place produces.

My friend had a bowl of French Fries in front of him. They seemed to be a sensible companion for the mussels. He claimed they were perfect.

“These are the best god-damned French Fries I’ve ever eaten. I’ll tell you! You’re forgiven for being such a snob. You do know how to pick incredible restaurants. I’d never even heard of this place.”

“You think everything is downtown! South Minneapolis is loaded with marvelous places to have lunch or dinner. This, however, is probably the best!”

I had a small salad off to the side. It was a fantastic gathering of spinach leaves, a soft-boiled egg, toasted almonds and delicate Parmesan cheese. It was topped with a warm bacon dressing. I just can’t tell you how perfect it was.

He ordered another glass of the Protocolo Blanco. He said it was wonderful and just a perfect companion to the mussels. I passed on wine and sipped on some terrific tea – hot and black! Perfect!

“So, do you agree that there is a sharp division in the Grand Old Party?”


He knew I respected his political insights. He is a keen observer and I knew, factually, that he did read the New York Times every day and the Washington Post nearly every day. His mouth wasn’t yet empty, but he went on anyway.

“Listen,” he said with a bit of a whisper, leaning out over the table to speak (nearly dragging his tie through the mussel broth), “the establishment GOP would love to get Boehner out of the speaker’s chair. He’s kissed the ass of too many Tea Party representatives. He can’t figure out how to handle them. His claim that the freeze in negotiations is Obama’s fault is losing its credibility now. He’s trying like hell to present a unified front, but his regular soldiers are starting to lose faith in him. They want to get the country moving again and settle this f---ing cliff matter. The Tea Party reps are f---ing idiots. The concept of compromise escapes them! We’re going over the cliff, but it won’t be bad. It’ll actually help the President. He gave in too much in his first term and he knows it. He doesn’t have to run again. He can be more of a bad ass!”

I nodded as he spoke, trying to remember each and every word so I could write it down after we split. It was snowing outside. The drive back out of the neighborhood was going to be beautiful.

Tilia’s is on West 43rd Street, just off Upton Avenue to the East (612-354-2906). It’s a small restaurant and you may feel crowded. It’s also a little noisy. I’d sit on the floor if it was all they had. The food is just that good – incredible and surprising! Go for it.

Tilia Restaurant, in Linden Hills, has been rated by a number of local food critics as among the best ten restaurants in the city, right up there with the Bachelor Farmer, In Season, 112 Eatery, Vincent, Restaurant Alma, Cosmos, La Belle Vie and Heidi’s. I’ve eaten in all of these, with the exception of Bachelor Farmer, and I want to put Tilia in first place. It’s not as comfortable as some of these other restaurants, but the food production is clearly the best of any of them. Tilia is a great adventure in taste! Until now, I have always rated Vincent as the city’s best. Now I’m moving this wonderful French establishment into second place.

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