Once in a Millennium
September 6, 2010

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Last post from the West Coast!

In yesterday’s biking journey recap, I said that my dinner at Millennium was one of the best meals of my life. These were not empty words. My visit to San Fran’s incredible vegan dining mecca—famous with vegans and non vegans alike—was 100% show stopping.

I’ve had a lot of great vegan restaurant food in my day. Countless meals at Pure Food and Wine, lovely dinners at Candle 79 (a restaurant that keeps growing on me), lunches at the wonderful Souen, and even a new neighborhood haunt, Peacefood Cafe. I’ve also gotten to try wonderful vegan restaurants in Chicago, Miami, and Boston. In short, I’m a lucky vegan lady, and I never forget it! With all of that said and done, I think the following dinner would rank among the top five meals of my life—or at least, the top five meals I remember from the recent past.

It’s funny I’m making that claim, because usually I’m not such a lover of restaurant dining. I tend to find everything too garlicky, too oniony, too salty, and too small. Yes, small!! My number one gripe with restaurants: tiny portions. I know that we in the US are always bemoaning the unnecessarily large portion sizes in restaurants, but really, I think this applies more to fast food than anything else. I find fine dining portions to be miniscule, frankly, and often unsatisfying. I have a giant appetite, so perhaps I’m a lousy judge, but this is a big problem for me when I dine out.

Millennium allowed me none of these reasons to gripe. The food was very flavorful, yes—maybe a little saltier and more heavily spiced than the uber-simple food I cook, and certainly the cooked:raw ratio was higher than the way I cook day in and day out. But this was 100% my kind of food: tasty and vibrant, yet clean; hearty and comforting, yet healthy; a perfect balance of vegetables and sources of density; free of fuss. Best of all? Normal sized portions!! Two thumbs way, way, way up.

The evening began with a round of cocktails. I rarely spend money on drinks in restaurants, but I was in the mood for something festive tonight. I went for a grape juice, mint, and soda water concoction that was totally awesome: refreshing and not too sweet.

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Knud got a dark n’ stormy, which reminded me of family vacations of yore in Bermuda:

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And Chloe got some sort of martini that involved tomatos and watermelon. She loved it:

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Cheers!

Next up, we examined the menu:

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I knew from the get go that I was ordering three appetizers. For one thing, it would let me taste more dishes, and for another, it would maximize my salad options. Also, I found most of the appetizers a little more exciting than the main courses (though the stuffed pepper was mighty tempting). I decided to start with a raw treat: an heirloom tomato salad with cashew cheese, olive tapenade, and a cucumber salad.

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Perfect. Perfect summer tomatoes, perfect cashew cheese, perfect balance of salty and sweet. Loved.

Chloe got Millennium’s most popular appetizer: fried oyster mushroom “calamari.” We were all a little surprised that these were actually fried—we sort of assumed they’d be baked—but we couldn’t deny that they were stunningly good. And the peachy, chutney/salsa-type-sauce was miraculous—way better than plain old marinara sauce!

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Knud had two dishes. One was roast beets, which I helped him out with:

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And the other was roasted yukon potatoes with green olives, almonds, and a crazy delicious tofu “mayo” that our server told us was flavored with pimenton. Chloe and I were dying for it—I think we both could have sat and eaten it by the spoonful:

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In the midst of our foodie bliss, our kind server brought us some fried green tomatoes, on the house. Chloe and Knud, New Orleanians that they are, know a good fried green tomato when they taste it. Knud was a little on the fence, but Chloe really liked it, and I agreed (especially since it wasn’t too greasy):

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Next up, dinner. Chloe and Knud both ordered the Indian spiced potato cake with a vegan saag paneer, a chutney/relish, a cauliflower fritter, and some smoky beans underneath:

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Mighty delish. I pretty much ate half of Knud’s cake when I finished with my meal (oh hey, thanks Knud), and loved every bite. I’ve had vegan paneer before and always found it either dry or entirely without texture: this was sweet, subtle, and perfectly balanced.

For my part, I got two dishes. The first was a black been tortilla: a stack of black bean whip, plaintains, and whole wheat tortilla, served with a smoky pepper and tomato sauce and a small strawberry salad. I thought it was very good, and if I’d gotten it anywhere else I’d have probably been over the moon for it, but in the context of the rest of the meal, I’d say it was the least impressive dish of the night. In fairness, our very cool host mentioned that it wasn’t his fave, but it just sounded so good, and when our server told us it was the one app they never take off the menu due to its popularity, I was convinced.

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Don’t let my hair-splitting dissuade you if you visit the restaurant soon; it really was good. Just not the star of the evening.

My salad, meanwhile, might have been my personal favorite! It was fresh spinach, grilled potatoes (a lot like Knud’s potatoes, which is to say, perfect), apples, smoked tofu, caramelized onions, a smoky vinaigrette of some kind, and an extra tofu dressing that I asked for on the side, because it didn’t feel necessary. Here it was:

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And into my grateful belly it went. I eat a whole heck of a lot of salad, and this dish had me stopping every so often to say, “I am so happy right now.” It was Gena-heaven, and I hope I can do justice to this dish somehow when I get home, in my own kitchen.

After the meal, Chloe confessed, “in the cab on the way here, I wasn’t totally in the mood. But if all vegan restaurants were like this, I could eat vegetarian all the time.” She and Knud went on to note that what often seems true in vegan dining is that menus are either too exotic—as some raw food menus can be—or too laden with fake meat (which neither health-minded vegans nor omnivores who enjoy the real thing like). This was good, simple, whole food, served in a way that was slightly adventurous, but not entirely foreign. In short, a perfect place to bring omnivore friends. In fact, Chloe said that the dinner may have rivaled or even surpassed their super fancy, super pricy meal at Ame the night before!

I was really happy to hear that she liked the food so much, especially since I it was highly cool of her and Knud to eat vegan with me on our last night in San Francisco.

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What I found, meanwhile, was that Millennium towed a perfect line between being health-minded and indulgent. I find some vegan dining—certain macrobiotic restaurants, for example—almost too austere for my taste (and that’s saying a lot, given how minimalist I like my food to be!), but I also find a lot of raw, vegan restaurants to be way too heavy with the nuts and the sweets. Millennium was just right: it definitely felt like a “special occasion” meal, but it also didn’t feel like food coma. As you can see, I was a very, very, very happy lady:

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Thank you to the staff at Millennium for making this such a special night. I love your food, I’ll buy your cookbook, and I hope it’s not too long before I return.

And today, still probably aglow from fine dining, I woke up to another beautiful day in San Fran. This was a bittersweet morning: I’d said goodbye to Chloe and Knud the night before, and I was feeling sad that my little trip was over. I went for a good, therapeutic run, and then I made my way to Jamba Juice for some oatmeal.

When I travel, Jamba Juice oatmeal is always a standard option for me. If you order it without the “cinnamon crumble,” it’s totally vegan, and it’s also organic and steel cut. I’m a big fan, and it makes for a stick-to-your-ribs breakfast before a long day of travel:

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With banana and nut butter, natch, and some Vega shake n’ go mixed in, too.

Before leaving the Westin, I caught one more panoramic shot of San Fran from the hotel’s groovy glass elevators:

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What loveliness.

Elise and I spent the morning texting back and forth—as it turns out, she was at San Fran International on a layover, and we were desperate to hang out and talk about her honeymoon (Elise is far and away one of the most awesome women I’ve met through blogging). As it turned out, we were too far away in the airport to meet up. Bummer! Elise, I hope you got home safe.

I wanted my usual pre-flight smoothie, but I searched the airport terminal high and low for a smoothie option, and I couldn’t find one. Plan B: apple and Boomi Bar (the latter in my bastion of travel snacks).

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Red Delicious apples are my least favorite apples in the world. Mealy, bitter. Ick. But the only other fruit options were underripe bananas and peaches, which I’m not fond of. So, Red Delicious it was. (It actually wasn’t as gross as I remember them being.) As for the Boomi Bar, first time tasting one, and I liked it.

And now, I’m home, happily ensconced in my little apartment. As usual, I loved my travels. As usual, my heart remains firmly planted in NYC. I’m very happy to be back. Hope you enjoyed my travel updates, friends. I look forward to being back in my kitchen this week!

xo

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    40 Comments
  1. […] My favorite dining excursions of the past year have been Karyn’s on Green in Chicago and Millennium in San Fran (I am still drooling over that meal). Now I’m adding a few of D.C.’s green eateries to […]

  2. […] a joy to take non-vegans to vegan restaurants—for example, when I took Chloe and Knud to Millennium, and they loved it. But it’s also such a tremendous relief to eat one’s own kind of food with […]

  3. OMG, you are making me so excited for my san fran trip in dec! I have to convince the gang to try millenium! Love jamba oatmeal, $2 on wednesdays!

  4. First of all, I’m crazy jealous that you went to Millennium…I’ve been wanting to go there forever! Your meals all sound and look delicious. I think you’re 3 app ordering method was smart because I’ve examined that menu before and it is definitely loaded with good food. As an aside, for a (very brief) second, we were considering having our wedding in the city and the were front runners for making a vegan wedding cake. If I had Beyonce’s budget that would have been fine and dandy…but alas…I do not.
    Anyways, it was SO great chatting in the airport…I wish your flight had been just a bit earlier so we could have actually met up. We got home fine, but I’m definitely coming down with something now. Too much travel, not enough sleep…and I think my body figured out that after the last month of non-stop action, it can now (finally) let down it’s guard.
    Let me know when youre starting to plan your LA trip… 🙂

  5. I’m confused. I thought you strictly ate raw. A lot of your eats are NOT raw …especially the fried calamari????

    • Actually, Cara, if you read any of my information at the top of my site–or even took a cursory glance at the “about me” section or FAQs–you’d see that I do NOT eat strictly raw. I eat semi-raw, both for reasons of personal preference and because it’s what I believe is healthy for me. I make a great point of this all the time.

      Also: I’m sure you noted that those “calamari” were made of mushroom. But if you didn’t read carefully enough to note it, that’s what they were. I am all vegan, and semi-raw.

      • What a rude and sarcastic reply. I’m new and was just browsing. Are you always PMS ing . You may be in need of some “real” food……LOL

        • Actually, my response was totally devoid of sarcasm. A rarity, for me.

          When you start reading a blog, it means a great deal to the bloggers who sweat and toil over them each day that you at least get acquainted with us — via the top tabs — before you question our food choices with multiple punctuation signs.

          The food I eat is plenty real, dear Cara. And one of the LOVELY benefits of a high raw diet is the conspicuous abatement of PMS. Ain’t it grand?

  6. I totally agree re: portion sizes. I mean, restaurants do serve mountains of pasta and cheap beef, but when it comes to a salad, they give you three pieces of lettuce and a tomato and call it a meal. I know it’s a function of economics, but still, I would love it if more restaurants served Caroline-sized salads.

  7. wow, the food looks incredible. it looks like you had some fun. i’m traveling to san fran next year, maybe i can stop by that restaurant.

  8. Wow, you packed a lot into your long weekend! Millienium does indeed look to die for. Embarassed to admit that I’d never heard of it before this, but with my parents out in that neck of the woods I will make sure we go next time I visit them!

    Welcome home to you and me. As much as I’ve made a life of travel, it’s pretty nice to be back in NYC ain’t it? 😀

  9. Hi Gena! I had one of the best meals ever at Millennium, too. I was worried that it wouldn’t live up to the hype, but it was truly incredible and far surpassed my expectations. Your San Fran posts have got me seriously itching to go back to California!

  10. Wow, had to bookmark Millennium for my next SF trip, it looks simply amazing! And I never knew Jamba Juice had vegan oatmeal, great to know for future travels. What an awesome trip, you’ve got to try Ubuntu in Napa on your next trip to the west coast.

  11. WHOA. That meal really does look phenomenal. I can’t believe how perfectly it struck the right chord. You are so spot on, in my experience, vegan restaurants lean one of two ways – too healthy and bland, or too junky and gross. But wow….this really looks exactly perfect. YUM!

  12. I went to Millennium about a year ago and had almost the same meal as you! I loved the black bean tortilla, but sadly the staff did not heed to my “dressing on the side” request on the tofu salad and I wasn’t a fan of it. Glad to hear you enjoyed the meal!

  13. I really enjoyed following along with your San Fran adventures. I have been there – but only for 2 short hours!
    I have both Millennium cookbooks. I will be spending some time flipping though those pages tonight.

    Safe travels Gena.

  14. I totally agree about the portion sizes.
    When I’m dining out, I want a meal that’s going to REALLY fill me up 🙂

  15. I love reading your San Fran adventures!!! I can’t wait to go there and hopefully I’ll enjoy it as much as you did!!!

    Thank you for sharing with us your wonderful trip and your amazing energy!!!
    Much love!
    Deby.

  16. What a lovely meal! Nice idea to try things out. I am fairly certain I did that too. I remember only one dish I had there: a caprese tomato salad. Very good.

    I hate mealy red delicious too. I usually hit up a grocery store before the airport. I never rely on the likelihood of any decent fruit.

    • forgot to say that i thought of caravan of dreams in NYC. it has raw and cooked items and the portion sizes are HUGE. nice big salads that are delicious.

  17. Damn, I not happy that you’re happy to be back in NYC…I was hoping your most amazing weekend in SF would convince you to move to CA! Oh well, you still havent been to So Cal, maybe that will convince you 🙂

    Seriously though, what a trip!! I dined as I mentioned at Millenium years ago and looking back, I didnt full appreciate it as much as I would now I dont think. It was amazing but now, I think it’d be even more so if that makes sense.

    As for raw restaurants being too nuts/seeds heavy and veggie rest’s being too fake meat centric, and many being too fancy froo-froo, and others being too austere, you hit the nail on that head…all such true statements!

    Ok the fact that you and the Hippie were in SFO together and didnt get to meetup, oh that’s just not fair and I agree, Elise is a doll and I can’t wait to meet her soon..since we are both CA girls..are you sure you dont wanna move here?

    🙂

  18. Gawd, I have to try Millennium when I’m in SF next. I really wanted to go during my last trip but alas it was closed.

    I absolutely hate small-sized restaurant salads, too, and I doubt two would satisfy me (re your previous post on biking) so I would usually order something cooked vegetarian. I really admire your will in keeping to salads but it seems you naturally love them 😉

    You are amazing in blogging during your trips. You’re an inspiration, girl!

  19. I’ve loved reading your San Fran recaps! I’m much like you when dining out – when I have something in front of me that is REALLY a Dorry-meal, I am so incredibly happy. I think it’s b/c I’ve been disappointed many times or had such a lack of options…

    Also – really good to know about Jamba Juice oatmeal. I’ve had some unfortunate milky experiences at other places even when they assured me it was dairy-free. Glad you had a great trip to the West Coast!

  20. When I was 11 my mother went vegan after being diagnosed with cancer as part of her treatment plan. My father joined her to show his support, which resulted in my entire family going about 95% vegan. After a few months of complaining from my brother and I my parents took us all out of Millennium for dinner to prove vegan food could be delicious.

    That meal took place roughly 12 years ago now, but it remains crystal clear in my memory. I told my parents that if they cooked like this every night I’d stop complaining.

    I’m so glad you got to experience Millennium, it remains one of my favorite restaurants I’ve ever been to, vegan or not.

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