After embarking on a raw vegan ‘cleanse’ for a few weeks, a sumptuous meal at Millennium, a gourmet vegan restaurant near Union Square in San Francisco, was to be the congratulatory meal for suffering the anticipated feeling of deprivation. But by the time the night had arrived, deprivation was an extremely inaccurate description, so instead of desperate indulgence, this treat turned into a celebration of vegan cuisine beyond the limited range of local raw and vegan cafes and of course, my own imagination.
My “cleanse” buddy and I arrived at 5:30 sharp for our reservation which brought the two of us into an empty dining room – we were the first to be seated. This gave us plenty of opportunity to watch as every seat became occupied; Millennium draws a mixed crowd; from hipsters to young families with adventurous children and everyone in between.. Since the restaurant has been open and successful for almost two decades, I’m not revealing anything insightful – but we were impressed to see this level of interest in a cuisine that highlights sustainable and organic veggies in place of a prime cut of meat.
We had both been a bit obsessive in studying the menu posted on the restaurant’s website and thought we knew what we wanted to order that evening. Unbeknownst to us, San Francisco was celebrating Beer Week and Millennium was partaking in the festivities by offering a beer infused meal and pairings on their February Harvest fixed menu. Since we were in a state of celebration, we decided to forgo our pre chosen menu options and agreed to enjoy the Beer Week selections, but without a doubt, the choice to enjoy a pre-appetizer appetizer was a no brainer. Our Brussels Sprouts arrived and the deep umami flavors from caramelized molasses wafted through the air, complementing the bitter flavor of the sprouts and the standard accompaniment to sprouts of this sort, bacon, was replaced with home made dried tofu – it’s identity was hardly obvious when soaked in the Brussels’ molasses sauce.
To start us off on the fixed menu, we were brought the Saison de Wench from Bison Brewing in Berkeley, CA, served with the Roasted Pear Bruschetta. The beer’s creamy mouth feel and faint anise seed and lavender aromatics enhanced the sweet and salty combo of pureed pecans and ripe red pear. The light vinaigrette atop crunchy endive and bitter greens re balance the plate – every two bites and a sip, and you’ve come full circle. Followed by Seared Dumpling’s, a well crafted mid plate, the chef was progressively leading us into the more complex main course.
The two available entrées offered were Pumpkin Seed Picadillo Tamale and Green Farro Brik Roll. These hearty dishes, with their vibrant flavor and spice combinations stood up well to the hoppy Black IPA they were paired with. The latter boast a carrot habanero puree and a chocolate chili emulsion, successful executions of the sweet and spicy enigma. The tamale exceeded expectations of a vegan option as both its flavor and texture, generally associated exclusively with the inclusion of animal lard, were somehow recreated in this guilt free option. On the other side of the table, the Green Farro Brik Roll exuded a more Italian spirit; rosemary and sage were gently infused into a creamy white bean puree, below a crisp phyllo filled with savory greens. Anyone could have mistaken them for having been simmered in cream and fresh cheese.
It was refreshing to experience this fine dining restaurant as they continue to break the convention of what a fine dining restaurant is, not just by the food they serve, but also their location and quality of staff. Housed within a generic Best Western, this destination is welcoming and in an accessible location. Our waitress Stephanie reflected the ambiance in a casual yet professional manner, acting as a source of knowledge on our meals and accompanied pairings while working as part of a fluid front house team. She even got my cookbook signed, while juggling our flexibly ‘set’ menu; while I had chosen the beer tasting, my cohort chose to pair her meal with wine and at the end of the meal, we opted out of the fixed menu dessert, picking out two from the regular menu.
We paired the Imperial Stout, “Raven’s Eye” from Eel River Brewing in Fortuna, CA with the Midnight Chocolate Cake and the Beet and Carrot Cake. The stout had layers of chocolate and coffee that did not particularly match the flavors of either dish, but brought out the deep rich chocolate and nuts within the creamy mousse cake. The dense, yet creamy texture of the cake held up to the more viscous beer, creating an ideal place for the subtle aromatics and flavor evolutions to develop. The supremely moist beet cake carried a beautiful red color and the creamy coconut milk based ice cream could have passed for full fat cream and egg yolks; since the stout had both a chocolate nose and flavor, it also succeeded in accentuating the lighter flavors of this last dish.
At the end of the meal, though many plates had come full and left empty from our table, I didn’t leave in a foggy food coma. The meal was delicious and the experience stimulating to both my body and mind. Now when I do make a trip to my local ‘hippie’ grocery store or farmers market, the challenge will be to make my selection of ingredients from the produce section, based more prominently on their own amazing flavor and texture qualities, and less on the meat they will or won’t be served with. Long live veggies and all of us who love them!
Millennium offers many prix fixe dining options, and even discounts your meal if you bring in a meat-eating friend to convert them to veganism!
Check them out when you’re in the Bay Area: Official Website0