Saturday, May 21, 2011

Millennium - my vegan mecca in San Fran

I really get excited when I think about eating at Millennium.  It is hands down one of the best restaurants I have ever eaten at.  Period.  I don't really go to review the food but to enjoy a DINING experience.

I'm so excited I started taking pictures just DRIVING by the place.
Hey, New York.  Get with the program.  You stick your credit card in the meter and take care of business.  You don't have to wait for a machine to issue you a piece of paper after waiting on a line and then stick it on your dashboard.  In West Palm Beach, FL you can bill a parking meter charge to your cellphone!

What New Yorker would pay for parking?  A few circuits around and I had a spot 3 blocks away.
Yes, we walk therefore we park.

I walk in and it's packed.  I don't make a reservation figuring there's always a seat at the bar for 1.  Guess what?  There is a 30 minute wait.  Yup, even for a seat at the bar.  For 1.

Full except for those 4 seats you can see across the bar.  My favorite seat is just a bit to the right of where this pic is taken.  You can see down the line and watch Eric & Co. work.  It's almost as good as Lincoln Center.

I got myself a beer and went into the lobby of the California Hotel to relax, enjoy the beer and peruse the cookbook.

Waiting area in the hotel lobby.  You can see my beer from here.

The Bison IPA was a nicely bitter beer.  I did find that without any food my palate craved something a bit milder.

You can see my beer better from here!  I own the other cookbook, "The Artful Vegan" so this book kept me company.  I actually found my dessert recipe in here.

After about 20 minutes I was called and sat at the bar, in a seat I had occupied several times before.  Alice took good care of me.

Have beer will travel, and here we are together with our new found friend, Cookbook, at the bar.  The line is to the right.

The website said there was going to be a dish made with a stuffed phyllo dough purse.  "The Artful Vegan," was the first real cookbook I ever bought.  The first recipe I chose to make was simply called, "White Bean-Filled Phyllo Purse over Soft Garlic Polenta with Porcini-Zinfandel Sauce, Broccoli Rabe and Grilled Pear."  I can't even say it without taking a breath.  I didn't know it at the time but it's the sort of recipe you shouldn't really attempt if you don't even know how to properly hold a kitchen knife.  (I didn't).  It's the sort of recipe that includes ingredients that have their own recipes 100 pages later in the "Basics" section.  (Did I really need to make my own roasted vegetable stock?  Make my own Spicy Fennel Seitan Sausage?)  The recipe took me 8 hours.  (The second time I made it it only took 4!)  Ever since I have wanted to try the Millennium version.  I was excited that this was on the menu tonight.  But it wasn't when I got there.

The other thing that wasn't available was the bread and spread.  They ran out.  (sigh).

Crusted Oyster Mushrooms.  One of the reasons I want to exist.

See, right there, complimentary bread.  Oh well, next time.

I am just flummoxed by the choices.  I want everything.  I want a bite of every component on every plate.  I got the tasting menu which includes a starter, (half sized with the tasting menu) and then decided to go with the Roulade.  I was going to get the second half of the appetizer, to go but Alice let it slide and said I could get the tasting menu with the Roulade, normally not an option.

Clear view of the devil's corner.  That is the domain of the Pastry Chef.  You'll see why later.

Looking across the bar at the dining room.

Looking across the bar at the front of the restaurant.

The mushrooms aren't a rendition of fried calamari, (go to Sublime in Ft. Lauderdale for those), but a delicious offering of what can be done with a mushroom.  The first taste is a sweet crunchiness followed by the meaty chew of the mushroom.  I didn't get a big hit of thyme.  

The jam has a distinct sour/bitter note to it.  I thought it was fighting the sweetness and winning.  Grapefruit was an interesting choice, certainly one I'd never come up with and made an interesting dip.  I'm not sure I'd pick it given a choice but glad to have the experience of tasting it.  There was no heat in the jam from the habanero that I could tell but the mushrooms really need nothing else to put them on their own pedestal.

The radish salad with ginger aioli was a sweet pickled side that to me was the perfect compliment to the mushrooms.

This little guy went for a swim in the pool before the others got a chance.
It's sort of funny the way we remember things.  When the server put the entree down, (dishes are brought to the seating side of the bar and placed on the bar from behind you by a server, not the bartender), one of the rolls, well, rolled across the plate.  So now I remember the exact same thing happened the last time I was here and ordered the dish.  Now I think of that lone mushroom sitting in my grapefruit jam and it occurs to me that the expression, "First we eat with our eyes," is so true.  When you put something down in front of someone and pieces are jumbled up or things roll from where the chefs put them it changes what they strive to create.  It's a small thing but it's an important thing.  Especially when you're paying $25 for your entree.

I put the roll back on but don't think this is what the plate looked like when it left the kitchen.

To the left the baby carrots, fennel, and parsnips.

This dish was amazing despite a few shortcomings.  Plating doesn't influence taste so lets put that aside.  The only real "fault" with the dish was the dough wrapping was inconsistent.  Some of it was flakey, some soggy and some overcooked, on the bottom, just tough.

Now lets move to the tastes.  First, I want to say that as good a home cook as I am, (and I'm not bad),  I am truly indebted to the likes of Eric Tucker for their ability as artists, to imagine and execute the flavor profiles they offer.  I can't imagine like they can.  I can't make it happen like they can.  And they can.

This dish is truly a carnival of flavors and textures in your mouth.  There is density of a wrapped food, individual tastes of rich earthy mushrooms, sun dried tomatoes, the chewy feel of meaty savory seitan, lightness of chard and ease of bite of mushrooms.  That's what you get in bite one of the roulade.

But that isn't where the explosion is.  The explosion is in the reduction.   A truffled red wine reduction.  Mere words.  To describe the indescribable.  I could have slathered the whole roulade with this.  I could have had this with bread to dip. (Had there been any bread).  This reduction was drinkable.  Bottle-able.  Sale-able.

What an amazing combination of ingredients, textures and flavors.  You can clearly see the chard, mushrooms and seitan.  The small yellow pieces to the left are the pickled chard stems.
The pickled chard stems were about a tablespoon of interesting flavored tough stems.  I think this was sort of an experiment.  Interesting but not something I'd list as a side dish on the menu.

The vegetable side was perfectly cooked with just enough crunch left and the potatoes were pretty standard, mashed with a hint of garlic.

This was a much lighter beer.

Pickled Chard Stems.

Eric Tucker, the Dumbledore of Millennium.  I hope one day he opens a school and sends out the
culinary wizards unto the world.  Can you teach creativity?
To me there are two things that comprise an end of the meal.  Well, three if you count eating all of your food.  The other two things are chocolate and a cup of coffee.  (How nice to know I get Silk Soy Creamer and don't even have to ask!)  The coffee was strong and smooth and when the Chocolate Almond
This picture doesn't highlight the dessert but with the coffee is the quintessential end of meal.
The devil must have a hand in making something so decadent.  This is not decadent for a vegan dessert, this is just decadent culinary heaven.
Chocolate Almond Midnight
almond cashew crust, mocha chocolate filling, raspberry sauce, white chocolate mousse
I didn't get much of the cashew in the crust, it's a chocolatey chocolate although texturally they are there. I ate this in layers, savoring each flavor and in forkfuls of everything all mixed together.  This dish could be served as it's individual components, a chocolaty cookie crust, either the rich mocha filling or white chocolate mousse should have their own line of "puddin' pops" but all together with a dip of the sweet/tart raspberry sauce was the perfect explosion of decadent sweetness, richness of chocolaty-ness to end a meal.

So the meal as a whole was pretty good.  Not excellently outstanding although there were pockets of that but better than most you can get anywhere else.  The sheer thoughtfulness of the flavor profiles amazes me every time.  Some taste combinations rocked my palate and the three dishes of my meal each had their highlights.

Now all that being said I had lunch with a Jenn from LGWB, a SF Blogger the next day and found out that Jason, the sous chef at Millennium had passed away less than a week ago.  I was shocked and so sorry to hear that.  I received this today via email:

In Memory of Jason Dunbar 

Millennium's Sous Chef, Jason Dunbar, spent his last day in Yosemite on Friday, his favorite place outside of the kitchen, with people he loved, people who loved him. He and Eric Tucker created the  menu together for the past five years and he had been with Millennium since  
February of 2004.

Jason left us too soon, and he will be missed deeply by everyone who knew him.
 He was honest and full of life-- someone who believed that if he was going to do something, it was going to be done right and with all of his endless energy and integrity. He was a wonderful teacher, an avid reader and someone who was always true to himself and to those around him.

He was extremely talented and so passionate about and dedicated to feeding people
delicious food that did not do harm in its making.
 He loved laughing and making people laugh, and he went out of his way every day to make this day better than the one before. He has influenced so many, and so much, and his spirit will live always in the people who love him, in our enduring memories, in our constant gratitude--in us forever.  

Jason's memorial service will be held on Friday, May 27th at 2:00pm.
It will be at Lafayette Orinda Presbyterian Church, 49 Knox Dr., Lafayette.
There will be a reception at the church after the service.

Jason was a devoted climber for twenty years-his love for climbing survives him and celebrates him with your considered contribution to The Access Fund, an organization dedicated to protecting the environment at America's rock climbing sites.

We love you Jason, 
Eric, Alison & Your Millennium Family  

I can't imagine working like the Millennium staff did, with a vacuum where Jason stood.  In light of this my meal was a great meal.  There is no sense to focusing on the few trifling imperfections.  It was outstanding.  RIP Jason.

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