Monday, December 22, 2008

Sayonara, San Francisco

Who: VN Editorial Assistant Abigail Young
What: One last hurrah in my favorite city 
WhereMillennium Restaurant, San Francisco, Calif.
When: December 21, 2008
Why: To celebrate an incredible internship at VegNews

The Scoop: Since September, I’ve had the pleasure of spending my days at the VNHQ, learning the ins-and-outs of magazine publishing, vegetarianism, and the art of cooking for a large group of hungry co-workers.  It’s been an amazing four months, and I’m still in denial about the fact that I’ll be hopping on a plane tomorrow morning, headed for the Midwest. 

To celebrate my time spent at VegNews, my boyfriend, Bill, and I had the honor of going to Millennium for a farewell dinner. Amateurs in gourmet dining, we knew we were in for a treat. 

Abby and Bill at Millennium in San Francisco, Calif.

Despite the dreary weather and cool temperatures, we made it to Millennium in good spirits and with big appetites. After drying off the December rain, we were seated at a cozy table for two. It took a surprisingly short time to decide what to order, even though the mouth-watering menu made us wish our stomachs were three times as large.

To start, we each ordered a small appetizer, our indecisiveness making it impossible to pick just one to share. Bill immediately singled out the Herb-Dusted Gold Potato Frittes with smoked ketchup, and I pretended to be healthy and chose the Seared Brussels Sprouts.

I initially scoffed at the idea of ordering fries at such an upscale restaurant. You can get fries anywhere, right? Then I took a bite, and happily ate my words (and quite a few fries). Thick-cut potatoes, sprinkled with sea salt and a tasty blend of seasonings, were made even better with a quick dip in sweet and tangy ketchup.  I quickly apologized for doubting Bill’s gastronomical judgment.

The Brussels sprouts were nothing to scoff at either, and were devoured—mostly by me—in minutes. Seared, seasoned, then served with smoky tofu and olives, these little guys were delicious. I don’t think either one of us thought such a notorious vegetable could taste so good.

Brussels sprouts and fries—this versatility is one reason I’m so impressed with Millennium. On one hand, they take something “accidentally vegan” and lowbrow like fries and transform them into a gourmet appetizer. They also tackle stereotypical vegan fare, like Brussels sprouts, that most of the nation considers bland and boring. That is, until Eric Tucker turns those little cabbage look-a-likes into culinary gold. 

The appetizers were finished with gusto, and I started to worry that we had ordered too much. My stomach was filling up and we hadn’t even made it to the main course! Alas, when you’re at Millennium, you always find room.

The meal was in full swing as the entrées came out. Bill had the Winter Spice Tamale, a tasty Mexican tribute stuffed with pumpkin and pinto beans, and served with chocolate-almond molé sauce, fresh avocado, and sautéed greens. I ordered the Cornmeal-Crusted Portobello Mushroom, served with a fresh side salad of marinated greens, carrot, thinly sliced onion, and mandarin wedges. Slices of flavorful Portobello had the perfect level of crisp on the outside while still being tender on the inside. I had no problem sending back a clean plate.

At this point in the evening, we’re finished—tapping out, throwing in the towel, surrendering to the gods of good food. We were ready to ask for the check when our waiter returned, asking “Would you like to see a dessert menu?”

“Yes, please,” we responded without hesitation. Oh, come on! You can’t leave without dessert.

To jolt us from our imminent food-induced sleep while we waited, we sipped organic, fair-trade coffee with soy creamer and a sprinkle of sugar. Our sweet treat arrived to seal the deal—the German Chocolate Torte, complete with classic coconut icing and a sweet scoop of chocolate ice cream. Paired with the full-bodied coffee, it was an ideal ending to a phenomenal meal.

One seriously delectable dessert, courtesy of Millennium 

The dessert quickly disappeared along with our coffee, leaving not one centimeter of empty space in our stomachs. Ashamed of the gluttony but in awe of the experience, we left giddy and grinning. 

It was a bittersweet walk to the Muni stop, as I realized this would be the last time—for now—that I would be in downtown San Francisco. As if to cheer me up, my favorite street performer happened to be at the corner of Geary and Powell, beating an infectious rhythm on his makeshift drum kit of plastic buckets and five-gallon jugs. We danced a little at the stoplight before catching our train home, and I said a silent goodbye to the city.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

A Very Veg Thanksgiving

Who: VN Editorial Assistant Abigail Young
What: Thanksgiving feasting and a tribute to The Smiths
Where: Popscene nightclub, San Francisco, Calif.
When: November 27, 2008
Why: To give veg-inspired thanks

The Scoop: Previous holidays have brought me unwanted stress, directly related to being the only vegan in my family. The inevitable, "What are you going to eat?" question arises, and my mother and I scramble to find a solution that the "traditional" folks won't be too offended by. You want to put vegetable broth in the stove-top stuffing? Blasphemy! It generally ends with a few side dishes on my plate and an internal sigh, lamenting the omnivore-crafted meal.

But this year, there were no more excuses for my whining. Being away from my Missourian family led me to host the 100-percent-vegan festivities at my cozy apartment. The dinner quickly gained RSVP’s from fellow 20-somethings seeking a home-away-from-home celebration. As a group, we decided to do it potluck-style, divvying up the dishes to alleviate any stress or financial burden. Needless to say, we went a little crazy and made more delicious food than could fit on the table.

A collaboration of compassionate cuisine

Lauren, another Missouri transplant, took an impressive made-from-scratch approach to her dishes. Her tofu potpie, candied yams, and tangerine-cranberry sorbet were phenomenal. Beca, Jersey-girl extraordinaire, brought her family-inspired classics to the table. A tasty veggie and pita bread appetizer plate with Mediterranean hummus kept us calm during prep time, while roasted asparagus with a crunchy breadcrumb topping, marinated mushrooms, and a trio of colorful roasted potatoes earned her gold stars at the table. The testosterone in the house, Ben and Jake, also fellow Midwesterners, brought fluffy, golden crescent rolls and a sweet salad made with strawberry-marinated greens and raw pecans. I whipped up my mom’s classic stuffing, VN’s famous Mac ‘n’ Cheese, a savory Celebration Roast, and the quintessential pumpkin pie. Are you hungry yet?

There was more food than should ever be consumed in one sitting, but we made a valiant effort trying—and paid for it. Luckily, we had post-gorging plans to help alleviate the food coma/calorie intake/overall bodily discomfort. In honor of our meatless feast, we headed to Popscene to dance our knees off at their 9th Annual Meat is Murder party, a tribute to The Smiths and their leading veg man, Morrissey.

330 Ritch was already packed with an array of scene kids, aging hipsters, awkward-guys-in-the-corner, and every other label you might expect to find at an indie dance club and/or anything related to The Smiths. The DJs were spinning killer Brit pop to get everyone’s feet warmed up, and the bars were packed with people not quite comfortable enough to show off their skills pre-inebriation.

Lauren Paulk and Abigail Young ready for a night of dancing

After a few impatient dances, This Charming Band took the stage and played a short but oh-so-satisfying set of audience-requested Smiths songs. Tracks like “This Charming Man” and “Cemetery Gates” filled the room, and we danced like fiends. Every classic hit was greeted with cheers from the crowd, followed by in-sync screaming of the melancholic lyrics. Lead singer Orlando’s voice matched perfectly to the brooding Morrissey projected on the club’s video screens. If you closed your eyes, the vocal resemblance was uncanny. We also ran—or should I say danced—into Melisser, The Urban Housewife, who came out for the show. It didn’t get any better than being with veg-minded Smiths fans, shouting the lyrics to “Take Me Out” as This Charming Band closed the set.

The DJs picked up where they left off, keeping the energy too high to stand still. We continued to tear up the floor until nearly closing time, and then headed on the long trek home. While my family was dearly missed, close friends and the all-veg celebration that took their place made for one of my most memorable holidays yet.