It’s amazing what a difference a few hours can make. Seattle’s really not that far away – if not for the border wait, the drive is about 2.5 to 3 hours, the same amount of time to watch and digest a good film – but it feels as though it runs on an entirely different genetic make-up than Vancouver, a difference that can make dinner a thrilling experience.

This is more than evident at Maria Hine’s Tilth, for which Ms. Hines has won a James Beard Award for Best Chef (Northwest) and which Frank Bruni placed in his 2008 list for the ten best new restaurants in the US. We’ve eaten there on numerous occasions now, and ensure we include it on our things-to-do list for each visit.

In part, it’s the coziness. Tilth is based out of a small converted house in Wallingford, with half of the seats inside what feels like an old living room, and the other half outside on the lovely porch. The servers are gracious hosts, each eager to make you feel at home.

There’s a certain amount of pride that is taken at the restaurant – much like a family might be proud of each member – and it’s due, in part, to Tilth’s modus operandi. The restaurant has been certified by Oregon Tilth, an organization from its name state that gives its designation to those meeting exacting organic and sustainability standards; very little at Tilth fits outside those restrictions.

On our last visit, corn was very much in season, and things started out with a white corn flan, floating along under a white corn foam, served with popcorn shoots and nasturtium petals, all tasting of lightness, vitality and of the season (USD$9 for the half-order, USD $14 for the full; almost everything at Tilth is available in both portion sizes). A risotto with dungeoness crab, sea beans, English pea and lemon balm was featured that day (USD$15 for the half, if memory serves), each bite breathing of tide, ocean and beach.

Not everything is light and airy: duck sliders sit atop mini brioches, dressed with hot mustard, house-made ketchup and onion jam, and served with fingerling potato chips fried in duck fat (USD$16 for two, or USD$27 for 4). They might seem a bit expensive, but a few bites into the ground duck patty and chips will quickly erase that complaint away and give a strong validation as to why the dish is an obvious crowd favorite. We like to end things off with a selection of local and Oregon cheeses (an assortment of three goes for USD$15), each paired with accompanying jams, honey or nuts; it seems that, much like many West Coast wines, many Washington/Oregon cheeses don’t quite make it across the border.

All of this together – during this dinner and each other visit we’ve made to Tilth – is refreshingly different, and not merely because of the change in scenery. Pacific Northwest (or simply West Coast, at least in Vancouver’s case) is a varied beast, and the thrill of Tilth is its take on the genre, which feels more youthful and passionate than what Vancouver has offered in the past while (at least until the recent openings of L’Abattoir and others, anyway). The drive to Seattle might not be that long, but those short hours make an impressive contrast.


1411 North 45th Street
Seattle, WA
(206) 633-0801

Tilth on Urbanspoon