Of all the restaurants that are on my Seattle list, I’ve probably been building up my excitement around Tilth more than any other. I first found out about Tilth when I saw Chef Maria Hines on Top Chef Masters (that’s also when I figured out that we have one heck of a food scene in Seattle). I began following her on Twitter which is how I learned about Fainting Goat Gelato. Then I saw her defeat Morimoto on Iron Chef America. With all of this hype, how could I not be excited to eat at Tilth? So, when my wife asked where I wanted to go for dinner to celebrate my birthday, Tilth was right there at the top of my list.
Tilth is located in the Wallingford neighborhood, and if you aren’t paying attention it is really easy to miss because it fits right in with the houses around it. And when you walk in, you feel like you are walking into one of your neighbor’s homes. It’s laid out in the nice craftsman style that you find in many Seattle neighborhoods. There are hardwood floors and white tableclothed tables, with the kitchen in the back. It’s a very cozy and intimate environment (and fairly quiet which was surprisingly pleasant).
We had made a reservation, and when we arrived were seated immediately. Given that neither one of us had eaten all day, we were ready to go almost as soon as the menu arrived. In fact I believe that when the server asked how we were doing, the response was “Great, we’ll have the tasting menu”. She handled it well, smiled, took our drink orders, and offered a couple specials to also consider throughout the meal should the 5 courses not be quite enough for us (her favorite was the lamb testicles that I would have actually been willing to try if I was still hungry after the 4th course…really, I swear!).
It didn’t take long for the first dish to come out which actually wasn’t even on the 5 course menu. It was a single spoonful of a cold corn soup with just a small bit of heirloom tomato, and it was fantastic. It seemed so simple but the flavors were so bright, and just exploded in your mouth. It was one of those things that as soon as you taste it you know that you are in for a phenomenal meal; the kind of thing that demonstrates a whole different level of skill between chef and cook.
From there, the dishes just started flying in a beautifully orchestrated dance. We would finish a course, which would be cleared away in an unobtrusive manner, only to be replaced by something else after a perfect grace period. And each dish was so simple, yet so complex. The pumpkin soup was poured tableside over a delicate creme fraiche. The flavor was very subdued from the pumpkin perspective, but still very rich when combined with everything else. After finishing the gnocchi, which was so light and delicate, Jennifer commented that it was one of the best meals she’d ever had. We still had 3 courses to go, and she’s eaten at Hubert Keller’s Fleur de Lys (of course, I couldn’t disagree with her).
The next two entrée courses were again wonderful. There was the salmon served with tomato water, tapioca pearls and a currant tomato. Again, I was amazed by the amount of tomato flavor, but the delicacy of it at the same time. It doesn’t smack you in the face, but let’s you know it’s there with every bite. And the sirloin served with fried green tomatoes and cheesy grits were just fantastic. At this point I had to make a judgement call, and decided not to order another course and just wait for the dessert (while enjoying a second glass of wine). And I was glad that I saved room for the corn creme brulee with candied bacon. It was possibly one of the best things that I’ve ever eaten. It was sweet and creamy and a little salty with the bacon, with a wonderful textural crunch. I’ve had a few creme brulees before, but none compared to this. Just the perfect way to end the meal.
Overall, I was more than satisfied with dinner, and it was one of the best ever, though there were a couple of tiny things that kept it from being 5 Star. On my steak, most of it was cooked wonderfully, but there was just a bit of char on a couple bites that was a little off-putting. And I did find a bone in my salmon (not that big of a deal to me), while Jennifer said hers was a bit overcooked. But that’s really picking nits on a wonderful meal. I can’t get over how seemingly simple the dishes were, with such delicate flavors. Everything was new and different and exciting, just what I was expecting. I’m already planning my return trip for brunch (apparently her biscuits and gravy are just to die for), and am looking forward to the opportunity to try another of her dishes at the Seattle Chef’s Table dinner coming up. Basically, you could say I’m definitely a fan of Chef Maria Hines, and anything that she does.