Who: VegNews Editorial Assistant Hilary Pollack
What: A VIP dinner with vegan personal chef Rebecca Dienner
Where: Millennium in San Francisco, Calif.
When: October 4th, 2011
Why: To get the inside scoop on the delicious fall dishes at one of the city's best vegan restaurants.
The Scoop: The first autumn rains of San Francisco touched down this week, meaning that my comfort-seeking winter appetite will soon kick into full effect. I've already started longing for warm, hearty meals instead of the delicate salads that I subsist on for most of the summer in order to stay cool. Thankfully, one of the best vegan restaurants in the country is just a couple of neighborhoods away, and I'm also fortunate enough to have a couple of friends who work there, holding all of the secrets to the menu's top picks. On a nonchalant Tuesday evening, my dear friend Rebecca—a vegan chef herself—and I frolicked to Millennium for a taste of the finer things in life.
This is not hokey gnocchi.
We were daunted by the overwhelming appeal of nearly every single thing on the appetizer menu—oscillating between the heirloom tomato and melon salad, the black bean torte with caramelized plantains, and the coriander seed-crusted oyster mushrooms—but my friend Justin, who has worked at Millennium for several years, offered us some real talk by immediately recommending the gnocchi. Not just any gnocchi; this was the Seared Potato Gnocchi with vanilla-braised lobster mushrooms, grilled oyster mushrooms, saffron-lemon cashew cream, sweet pepperonata, and fried sage. It was love at first bite; this rich dish wowed us with its nuanced but harmonious reworking of the pillowy potato pasta. If only I could replicate it for holiday meals to come! Sadly, I am still a Tofurky-baking culinary amateur. We were also treated to the Roasted Fig Bruschetta, which perfectly balanced both sides of our palates with its synthesis of sweet smoked-onion marmalade, macadamia nut cheese, and radicchio-cherry tomato salad.
Choosing a cocktail also proved difficult, since Millennium's cocktail program is world-class and ridiculously inventive. Ever wet your whistle with a libation flavored by muddled tarragon, heirloom tomatoes, or basil vodka? I opted for the Happy Boy—a concoction of gin, lemon verbena, watermelon, beet purée, and lime juice—which proved refreshing, potent, and totally unique. I am a beet person, but initially even I was skeptical of the root vegetable's inclusion. But one sip, and I was sold. And tipsy.
My artichoke jungle shortly before being scarfed.
Now for the main event. As a mushroom freak—of the non-psychedelic variety—I immediately gravitated towards the Roasted Artichoke, stuffed with a portobello, pecan, and eggplant-piccadillo filling, all resting atop creamy porcini mushroom-toasted farro risotto. Come one, come all, my precious fungi. If I see the word "porcini" in a dish I barely care what else is in it; my destiny is clear. Rebecca was also charmed by her choice: the Heirloom Tomato Coconut Masala, with a butterball potato-chickpea cake, mint chutney, and pickled cabbage.
After about half an hour of recovery/digestion/sparkling wine time, we were ready for our sweet finale. Upon being presented with dessert menus, we were immediately sent us into a tailspin of indecision. Finally, we pulled our server closer. "What should we really get? We can handle it. Be honest with us," we implored her. The Molten Chocolate Rum Cake had caught our eye, but she caught us off guard with some restaurant philosophy. "Chocolate is always a good choice, but that's the thing—it's always a good choice. Some things, you can't get anywhere," she spoke to us cryptically before nudging towards the Vanilla-Pear Tart. We abided by her suggestion and were far from disappointed. The slightly salty walnut-pecan crust of this delectable dessert gorgeously complemented its syrupy medallions of perfectly in-season pear.
The tart that stole our hearts.
Bellies full, curiosity satiated, and many thank-yous distributed, we wandered back out into the evening's drizzle. Autumn's harvest flavors are as warm and rich as the colors of its leaves, and Millennium was the perfect place to immerse ourselves in them. With the guiding light of its knowledgeable staff, we had the chance to experience the best tastes of the season.