Review: Tilth


 I want to like Tilth, really I do. It’s not really the restaurant’s fault that it replaced one of my favorite places in Seattle, Mandalay Cafe. I try not to get upset about what they did with the decor. And I like the premise of all organic, all local food with a small plates/large plates option. But after two visits I just can’t see going back.

The first time was a while ago, shortly after the restaurant opened. It was a weekend in early summer, and J and I went for brunch. We weren’t really in the mood for breakfast food, so we both ordered the croque monsieur with a side salad, and glasses of red wine. We were seated at a nice table, the service was polite, and the sandwiches were tasty if not exceptional. But the room was freezing – I ended up wearing my wool coat, a wool hat and my scarf while I ate. The wine was cold, too, just from being in the room, and the salad was a rather dull pile of fresh greens with very little dressing. We felt depressed and uninspired.

I was willing, however, to give Tilth another chance, especially to try their dinner menu. So when my friend H and I were deciding where to have dinner before a garden lecture, we thought Tilth sounded promising and fun.

We arrived before 6, and the place was mostly empty. The waitress seemed to confer with someone in the back, and we were seated in the rear of the restaurant near the bathrooms. I wasn’t sure whether to be insulted or not. The room was still freezing – it’s an old bungalow, with a tendency to be chilly in the corners, but Mandalay used to build a fire in the hearth, the colors of the room were warm and the food was fiery as well, so it felt cozy. Tilth has the walls and floor all painted very glossy with cool green tones, which seems to reflect the cold air back at you. This may be why they brought an amuse-bouche of ginger-papaya elixir, steaming hot in tequila shot glasses. It was certainly warming, but rather peculiar tasting. I used mine to warm my fingers.

Being in a little bit of a hurry and not sure of portion sizes, we questioned our waitress over a few things, and decided on our order. To begin we got the hors d’oeuvres plate, which consisted of six small crackers, each with a piping of soft goat cheese and a cute topping of onion jam. Unfortunately, after popping a whole cracker in the mouth, we could taste a flash of onion and then it was nothing but goat cheese. We like goat cheese, but still. Cute presentation, but unexciting flavor.

When our first course arrived, I didn’t even notice mine at first. H had ordered pumpkin soup with apple salad, but what she got was a soup plate with a small pile of what looked like cress huddled in the middle of it. Just as we were both about to say something, the waitress whipped out a small pitcher and, with a flourish, poured soup over the salad. Weird. H said the soup tasted fine, though. I ordered the smoked gnocchi (I just can’t turn down gnocchi, darn it). It was theoretically the “small” serving, but it was an enormous pile of very dense, chewy gnocchi topped with a heap of kale and fried capers. Given how heavy gnocchi are, it was enough for four of me. I ate the kale off the top (smoky and quite tasty) and had the rest boxed up to go.

The second course arrived a bit late and we had to eat quickly. H got tuna  with red quinoa, which was very good. I had, in a fit of insanity, ordered the pork belly with cabbage. The pork was tender and delicious, but a little hard to separate from the fat. The cabbage was rich and had an enormous amount of mustard in it. I did what I could, but even with the small plate size I bogged down. It would have been a meal for me all by itself.

The other interesting thing with all this was my drink order. I had started off with a cocktail, the Jasmine, which was a very pleasant combo of gin, campari and lemon, and it lasted me through the first course. I wanted red wine to go with the pork and cabbage, though, so I asked the waitress for a recommendation. She immediately announced that I should get a white. When I said I’d really prefer a red, she got really snarky, made a comment about it being my money and my night out, and vanished without enquiring further. She reappeared with a bottle of red, showed it to me with no explanation of what it was, and poured me some. It was called Albares, but I know nothing beyond that. I was thoroughly annoyed by her attitude, but I didn’t feel like pursuing the issue so I drank it. It was acceptable with the pork.

When we asked for our bill, it came along with a pair of tiny plates, each with a cube of (I think) panna cotta with a grapefruit drizzle. It was, frankly, nasty.

In the end, we felt that most of the food was fine, but perhaps served with more pretention than it really deserved. The ambience was not very welcoming and the service was unfortunately lacking (our food was brought to us by at least three different staff, and our waitress apologized carelessly to us as we left for “disappearing” on us). At this point I don’t feel like wasting money on return trips, hoping for a more favorable impression.

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