When my husband, Jeff, suggested we celebrate our 11th wedding anniversary at San Francisco's Millennium restaurant, I joyfully accepted. Jeff had eaten at Millennium a few times, usually with a group of EarthSave board members (and he was kind enough to rave to me how fantastic the food was), and I was dying to go, too.
When you first walk into Millennium, which is off the lobby of the swank Savoy Hotel, you're immediately struck by the sensual beauty of the surroundings…tall columns, rich, draped fabrics, exotic lighting, elegant woodwork and marble - this is not your parent's vegan restaurant, but a five-star, first class gourmet phenomenon. You expect that the food will be as enjoyable as the surroundings.
We were joined by friends and Millennium owners Ann and Larry Wheat. Ann and Larry could be called accidental restaurateurs - they had never intended to get into the restaurant business. A managing partner with KPMG for 30 years, in the late 70's Larry found himself running the Hawaii branch of the giant accounting firm. There, he and Ann met John McDougall, MD, and were inspired to adopt a vegan diet. When they retired to the San Francisco Bay Area during the 1980s, they sought out and regularly patronized a number of vegan haunts. One of them was Milly's, in San Rafael, where the owners dreamed of opening a gourmet vegan restaurant in San Francisco - all they lacked was a business plan and investment capital. Larry said he'd be happy to offer advice; he ended up writing the plan and ultimately investing his own money (on the condition that chef Eric Tucker of Milly's would become the chef of the new Millennium).
Shortly after opening in 1994, Ann and Larry became more than investors when a management crisis pulled them out of peaceful retirement and thrust them into the operation of the restaurant. It took about nine months to get the restaurant on track, and Larry and Ann have never looked back.
As a vegan, it can occasionally be difficult to find anything appealing or edible in a restaurant - perhaps there is one entrée, perhaps none. At Millenium, you face an unusual dilemma: which appealing menu item will I select? Everything looks so incredible! Luckily our gracious hosts were kind enough to guide us through the process, and recommended the following dishes:
Raw Asian "Noodle" Salad -Julienne root vegetables, creamy tahini-ginger dressing, marinated Portobello mushroom, spicy Fugu persimmon chile sambal, asian aromatics
Warm King Trumpet & Honshimeji Mushroom Spinach-Frisee Salad - sesame-grain mustard vinaigrette, sautéed red onion, smoked tofu, Asian pear.
The smoked tofu in the spinach salad was so delectable that on the day we returned home from San Francisco, I ordered a stovetop smoker from amazon.com. It arrived only two days later, and I immediately smoked my first batch of tofu, using Millenium's very own recipe (it's featured in The Artful Vegan, the Millenium Restaurant's fabulous new cookbook). I hadn't ever thought of smoking anything, but I will say that smoked mushrooms, tofu, potatoes, onions, eggplant (I've been busy!) are extraordinary, and so easy and cheap to produce!
Plaintain Torte - whole wheat tortilla, sweet plaintain, creamy cilantro-tofu, tropical fruit & tomato salsa fresca, ancho chili & lime aioli
Cornmeal Crusted Oyster Mushrooms - Satsuma mandarin-jicam salad, garlic-herb remoulade, spicy house made chile jam
Porcini Purse - porcini-portobello mushroom ragout, barley-farro pilaf, Italian greens with currants and capers, celery root veloute, Himalayan black truffle-mushroom syrup, smoked paprika oil
Seitan Marsala - seitan medallions, marsala mushroom sauce, mashed potatoes, market vegetables, rosemary almond cream
The Wheats must have thought that our stomachs weren't extended quite enough, as they insisted that we try dessert. We put up a good fight ("Oh PLEASE, don't force us to eat any gourmet vegan desserts!), but eventually relented.
Chocolate Amond Midnight - almond cashew crust, bittersweet chocolate filling, raspberry sauce, almond "milk" chocolate mousse
Apple-Huckleberry Bread Pudding - caramel sauce, huckleberry sorbet
Dining at Millenium is truly a unique, special, delicious experience, and one that can only be achieved at - well, Millenium! I can hardly wait for my next trip to San Francisco. (Believe me, it's worth flying to there just to eat at this exceptional restaurant.) But until then, I will have to content myself with experimenting with the exquisite recipes from The Artful Vegan (November 2003, Ten Speed Press). I'm smoking something right now! (tofu, that is).
580 Geary Street
San Francisco, CA 94102