Thought about titling this post “Trillium in Manillium,” decided it was a stretch. But Ryan Leinonen’s new homage to the cookery of Scandinavia and its immigrant American offshoot is a thrilla, right here in Five Points instead of the Philippines. Leinonen’s repertoire is intelligent, inspired & just plain fun to explore.

If you’re anti-anchovy or sardine, boo on you, but even so, don’t mistake smelts for either. These tiny freshwater fishies are white-fleshed & cod-like rather than salty & oily, & Leinonen does the Midwestern tradition of the fish fry proud with his mini-version; sourced from Lake Michigan, marinated in buttermilk & deep-fried in cornmeal batter, they’re ultra-fresh, light & crunchy right down to the tiny bones, gaining creamy tang to boot from the lemon-vodka tartar sauce.

The balls on the below dish, if you’ll excuse the expression, smacked my mouth off at the media opening I got to attend, warranting a last-minute nod as one of the top 10 dishes I tasted over the course of my season-spanning guidebook-research marathon. The second time was no less a charm: it’s a boldly multifaceted juxtaposition of velvety, subtly funky foie-gras mousse, sharp pickled chanterelles, cloudberry preserves & the whole-wheat biscuit-like flatbread called rieska.

I wasn’t as fond of the trout terrine, a bit bland by comparison; pretty as the central dot of herbs is, the recipe would benefit from a more rustic approach, I think, with the herbs incorporated throughout a fish-heavier mixture.

I was also not as enamored with the portobello fries, a tad thick & clunky, as I thought I’d be; by contrast, I wouldn’t have ordered the salad pal @MO_242 picked, but wound up being delighted she did. Bearing some similarity to the insalata russa so common in the delis of Italy, but gesturing toward the MItteleuropean penchant for sweet-&-sour, it’s a chopped mélange of beets, apples, potatoes, boiled eggs & pickles over greens in just enough sour cream–mayo dressing.

Though grilled beef tenderloin with roasted root veggies is grilled beef tenderloin with roasted root veggies, Leinonen makes it his with the addition of bacon whipped cream & black pepper–brandy caramel—all ingredients used in classic steak preparations, but reconfigured anew.

Better still was the beautifully crusted, juicy pan-roasted chicken over fresh egg noodles in bacon-mustard vinaigrette; IMO, the old adage that chicken is for the birds—specifically the early birds & the bland of palate—is too easily disproven to count for much. Sure, there are a lot of duds out there, but there are also a lot of standouts. This is one of them.

And the carrot cake is truly one of the best I’ve ever had, dense, moist & heavy on the carrots, served with maple ice cream over carrot caramel.

Though the space isn’t to my taste—a little bare & glaring—the staff is lovely (that Linda’s a fittingly-named charmer) &, most important, Leinonen’s food is so winning—& so unlike anything else in town—that I see many visits in my future. 2011’s been a doozy in terms of debuts, but the opening of Trillium marks one of the most solid by far, IMO.

Trillium on Urbanspoon