By Karen Solomon
We’ve chowed down ravenously on Fast Food Nation and other ghastly tales of how genetically modified, overly processed, agriculturally-taxing food is slopped together, and there has never been a better time to eat with a conscience. With spring giving rise to the burst of the season’s best produce, and the warmer weather bringing desire for lighter meals, a stellar, first class establishment like Millennium makes vegan – pure vegetarian, no dairy, no meat – and conscientious cuisine satisfying, adventurous, and accessible.
A splurge? Absolutely. But well worth every honestly-earned penny. Millennium’s new location at 580 Geary at Jones in the Savoy Hotel is a step up from their former Tenderloin locale, and the larger and airier space with magnificent bar seating has given a boost to the menu and the overall dining experience. From the awe-inspiring 25-foot ceilings hang "fishnet" chandeliers made from paper, and tribal earth-toned curtains composed of recycled plastic bags divide the room into intimate quarters. The surroundings immediately connote responsibility, maturity, class, and coming of age, and the menu continues this assertion.
Here, a single rare mushroom is flayed and fanned perfectly. There’s no point in a juice if it’s not organic, local, and house pressed. Vegetables, herbs, and fruits are the undiscovered diva of the dinner plate that, served this fresh and this selectively, spangle with the brilliance and intensity that they deserve.
And while your brain will enjoy supporting the right eco-centric causes, your palate will revel in a gluttonous celebration of excess. Possibly spurred by the influence of the success of Roxanne’s raw food in Marin, executive chef Eric Tucker tries his hand at some raw plates that, while still in development, are well-rounded with promise. The Asian Avocado Timbale features guacamole, shiitake mushrooms in a ginger marinade, a delicate sprout salad, a chili "toasted" cashew (actually dehydrated for crunch to keep with the raw dish theme), and an absolutely heavenly sweet-and-aromatic miso date sauce that draws all of the flavors and textures into the fold. The dish is served atop large leaves of red leaf lettuce that, more than garnish or foundation, make a refreshing wrap.
The heat from Millennium’s visible kitchen fuels numerous cooked dishes, many of which rely on the full-bodied perfume and meaty texture of exotic mushrooms. The Roasted Abalone Mushroom, a rare delicacy originally from the Gobi Desert, is an upright companion to its tangy lemon-caper chili mojo. And the Sauté of Exotic Mushrooms should not be overlooked for its simplicity. The addition of cumin seeds and a generous bath of black truffle oil make this a mouthwatering, tapas-y staple.
Add a few more small plates, such as the signature Plantain Torte or the Rhone Braised French Lentils with black Chanterelles and grilled polenta, and voila! – you’ve had dinner. Traditionalists of hearty appetite, however, will want to order some mains as well, and the menu beckons with innovative proposals. The classic New Millennium Plate doesn’t disappoint. Order the marinated, smooth tempeh with a pile of mashed potatoes creamed with roasted garlic, seasonal vegetables, and the most aromatic, succulent Marsala mushroom sauce that is the red bow on the entire package. Keeping with the menu’s pan-world theme, the Indian-inspired fauxlet of smoked Portobello dredged in soymilk and soda water and crusted in chickpeas and lentils hints at Indian spice without overpowering. Paired with cardamom-spiced persimmon chutney, it’s a godsend of succulent fruit in the face of starchy, seared legume, and the saffron-curry aioli is a perfect accompaniment.
The seduction continues with Millennium’s outstanding selection of organic beverages, including the most extensive organic wine list in the hemisphere, beautifully organized by style for lovers of the libation perhaps unfamiliar with its many small vintners. The wine list alone is to be applauded, but clearly the drink menu was freshened and stirred to pander to the stately refinished three-sided bar that dominates the room.
Who can focus on grapes when the bar is stocked with fruity, infused vodkas, gin, whiskey, tequila, and vermouth, all organically produced or locally distilled? And when these liquid gems are paired with organic, fresh squeezed juices and sparkling water, sparks fly and the flames form signature cocktails like Zengria (organic Chianti, organic brandy, white grape juice, and pomegranate juice) or the Kumquat Drop (organic Meyer lemon vodka, kumquat syrup, and candied kumquat garnish). A range of organic beers and ciders are also on hand, including some challenging organic Belgian beers made from buckwheat or spelt.
Teetotalers will feel equally at home barside. Try one of many non-alcoholic aperitifs, such as the Kava Colada (coconut, mango, pineapple, and kava kava root) or Kombucha Elixir (sparkling organic oolong tea with essence of pear and ginger), and toast a pleasant and healthful evening. And of course, only the very best quality and fairly traded organic teas and coffee drinks will see you through to the end of the meal.
Millennium has positive elegance, a casual, well-situated location, and welcomes those who drop by on theater nights for chatty bar seating for either cocktails and small plates, or the pure dessert bar. Which leads to our conclusion.
No meal this luscious would be complete without just a hipshaking twang of happy guilt. The signature chocolate sampler plate smacks of artful, MoMA display, and it’s so generous that it must be shared. But for your patience in reading thus far, your reward is that you will learn where to direct your spoon. Dive – head first – into the chocolate cannoli shell with peanut butter mousse – the smoothest, creamiest thing ever to happen to peanuts. From there, position yourself counterclockwise to pastry chef Amy Pearce’s Chocolate Almond Midnight, a vegan cheesecake more convincing than many that aren’t so magically prepared. Its almond crust, sumptuous chocolate "cream," dainty almond cookies and pairing with raspberry coulis and fresh raspberries, will pull the synthetic wool over the eyes of even the most dairy-centric dessert snob. Kudos to Millennium also for their bold raw dessert selections, such as the cherimoya coconut sorbet paired with fresh water chestnuts in refreshing green coconut juice.
Millennium is open for dinner every night from 5-10:00 p.m., and offers a special three-course Sunday brunch, plus other special engagements throughout the year, such as romantic monthly dinner-for-two and hotel room packages, and seasonal hands-on cooking classes and celebrations of ingredients critical to the Millennium cooking p
hilosophy. Visit their new location at 580 Geary at Jones in the Savoy Hotel, or online at www.millenniumrestaurant.com. Reservations and more information can be obtained at 415-345-3900.