Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Millennium, Oakland #3

As you may have heard, Millennium, one of the top upscale vegan restaurants in the country, was forced to close after 20 years in the same location. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The Hotel California, a rundown hotel in downtown San Francisco, was bought by a new hospitality group and they told Millennium that they wanted a new restaurant. Eric Tucker, founding chef and owner, and Alison Bagby, general manager, realized they weren't ready to end this great thing they had going on. But, with investors pulling out, they had to raise money somehow to continue to serve the high-quality organic food they were known for. So, they launched a very successful Kickstarter campaign, and, voila! -- they reopened just a month later in the Rockridge area of Oakland in East Bay.

I had planned a trip out to the area and knew I had to hit the new location. My friend, Phil, and I headed out on a Wednesday night. We arrived in the little town of Rockridge -- a quaint area with a few shops and restaurants. We were about 30 minutes early and thinking that not many people would be here on a Wednesday night, we went to see if we could be seated. Um, no. They were packed. So, we sat down at the communal table and had a drink. The Millennium Manhattan I tried made with black-pepper vanilla rye, Carpano vermouth, whiskey barrel bitters, and house-brandied cherry was okay. But, my friend's Midsummer Pimm's was fantastic. It was made with rhubarb, strawberry and lime, and lemon juice.

We were seated on time at a table right outside of the kitchen. The space was fairly small, but so much nicer than their previous location. In fact, it is beautiful! Classy, modern, and rustic is how I'd describe it with wooden tables and exposed ductwork. The bar wrapped around a corner making for lots of open walk-in seating. There were so many fantastic seasonal selections that we found it hard to choose and just went ahead and ordered the 5-course tasting for $67 per person. I also ordered the wine pairing for $28.

The first course was the Heirloom Tomato and Melon Salad. It sounded so boring so were the least excited about this one. Come to find out it was actually amazing! The flavors in the Indian-spiced tomato gazpacho burst when combined with the curry leaf curry-pickled shallots, coconut yogurt, and toasted papadum. This one was a clear winner.

The second course was the Cornmeal Fried Squash Blossoms filled with lambsquarter-tofu cheese and served over a shaved fennel salad and pickled zucchini with fennel aioli. Goodness gracious - if this was indicative of what was to come, I was going to love all of these courses. The crust was amazing and the contrast between the stuffed squash blossoms and licorice was refreshing.

As a special order, we requested the Sesame and Arborio Crusted King Trumpet Mushrooms. These types of fried mushrooms are one of Eric's signature dishes. However, these weren't that great. I mean, they were good, but nothing mind-blowing like they have been in the past. And the appetizer was huge so we had a few and moved on.

The third course was Red Lentil Lemongrass Coconut Curry. This dish was a flavor explosion. Picture a Jasmine rice cake atop seared Asian vegetables, kohlrabi, green beans, gai lan, and anise glazed yuba with ginger black bean oil topped with Thai basil in spicy plum and shallot sambal. The sauce is what really brought all these flavors together and provided the warm curry for the seared vegetables and fried cake. Yum.

The intermezzo was a melon sorbet with a blackberry.

The fourth course was the Brik Purse. This one was awesome. There was grilled portobello and braised chard with summer truffle and pistachio filling served with butter bean sugo, smoked onion coulis, spelt salad, green olive salsa verde, and topped with roasted maitake mushrooms. Sorry for the pic - this was one I forgot to take so I grabbed my friend's iphone pic. :(

Last, but not least, we had dessert. This turned out to be an amazing sampling of some of their favorites. The blackberry lattice pie was fantastic served with white nectarine sorbet. There was a tiny almond cake with raspberries. And, best of all, was the cheesecake with pistachios.

Wow. I'll say a couple things about this meal. First, it was the best meal I've ever had in Millennium in all the times I've been there. It's like they took it a notch up and gave it their best. Second, I love the atmosphere and decor. Third, the tasting menu is way too much food. This was like three meals -- I'd suggest smaller portions going forward. Fourth, the wines were only so-so, but for $28, they were fine. Although the service was great, the server didn't know much about the wines and by bringing out just glasses of wine without the bottle, I had no idea what I was drinking. In one case, I asked where a wine was from and he had no idea. At least give me a country! Lastly, for $67, this meal is a steal. I walk away from this experience being utterly impressed. Eric and Alison -- you done good. Congrats. I wish you another 20+ years.

Previous reviews
February 19, 2013
November 24, 2011

Millennium Restaurant
580 Geary Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 345-3900

Millennium on Urbanspoon

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