• Millennium in San Francisco: a thousand tastes under one roof

    November 2nd, 2009mr meanermore restaurants (not LA), san francisco

    In a way, I feel sorry for Millennium restaurant in San Francisco. I mean, just about every vegan or vegetarian (and omnivores on occasion too) will say that Millennium has some of the best vegan cuisine in the world, and is probably North America’s finest vegan dining experience.

    Having enjoyed amazing meals at fine dining establishment Sublime in Fort Lauderdale, and the incredible Madeleine Bistro in Los Angeles, I had stratospheric expectations when I reserved a table for two at Millennium. Although the experience didn’t meet our very high expectations on a number of levels, we did have a thoroughly nice time dining on some of the most special food I’d ever eaten.

    It’s critical to make a reservation, as the place fills up hot and fast most evenings. As with anywhere this popular, you’re going to find the proprietors drawing a very fine line between retaining a pleasant environment, and packing people in like cattle. Sadly, Millennium crowds its patrons into small two-top tables, close together. There are a couple of larger booths by the entrance, but I bet you have to be Alicia Silverstone or Natalie Portman to get seated in them.

    Once you get over the cramped experience (you can literally hear every word uttered by both adjacent tables, as well as smelling the food they are eating), the menu hits you right between the eyes: on the night we were there dishes from France, Germany, Spain and Italy. And I’m not talking about paella and vegan sausages here, but full-on inventions, based on familiar European dishes, all prepared entirely vegan, non-GMO and organic.

    grilled flatbread: spring onion confit, black olives, "gorgonzola" cashew cream, dried chile flake & oregano., radicchio salad. $10.50

    grilled flatbread: spring onion confit, black olives, "gorgonzola" cashew cream, dried chile flake & oregano., radicchio salad. $10.50

    To start with, we ordered the Grilled Flatbread which was a scrumptious rendition of crispy bread, pizza-style with cool raddiccio salad, olives and a pungent, gorgonzola-style cheese. Although the tastes were interesting, this was the most unimaginative dish we had: it looked like somebody threw some vegetables on flatbread and plopped it down on the table. It reminded me of what I usually get when I order a vegan pizza from an omni pizza parlor: a selection of vegetables with no sauce or cheese on a crispy crust.

    sesame crusted oyster mushrooms: lemongrass-grapefruit-chile sambal, watermelon radish relish. $10.25

    sesame crusted oyster mushrooms: lemongrass-grapefruit-chile sambal, watermelon radish relish. $10.25

    Moving on, we ordered the Sesame-encrusted Mushrooms, which were much more up our street. This dish has been described as “the vegan calamari”, and I’m told (by people who have eaten calamari) that it mimics the taste and texture pretty well. I can’t vouch for that, but I can tell you it was the greasiest, oiliest and most scrumptious thing I’d eaten in a long time. While it might be organic this and non-GMO that it was anything other than healthy due to the thousands of calories of oily delicious madness.

    So, awash with flatbread and oil, our entrees arrived very, very quickly, leading to a theme I note about us feeling somewhat rushed. Cramped in + rushed = more $ for the proprietors…. Just sayin’. Oh and talking about that, Millennium charges $1 per person for a glass of tap water. That’s plain greedy!

    almond and black pepper crusted portobello: sesame, sea palm & scallion barley cake, saffron, IPA & french lentil sugo, seared jerusalem artichokes, carrot & escarole, spring garlic-sage tahini cream, parsley-meyer lemon salad. $23.95

    almond and black pepper crusted portobello: sesame, sea palm & scallion barley cake, saffron, IPA & french lentil sugo, seared jerusalem artichokes, carrot & escarole, spring garlic-sage tahini cream, parsley-meyer lemon salad. $23.95

    As luck would have it, I am also greedy, otherwise there’s no way I could have polished off the entrees. I plumped for the Almond and Black Pepper Portobello, a dish which took rather uninteresting (but sexily named ingredients) and delivered an intersection of tastes that were downright amazing. I found myself picking at bits of the food so I could enjoy each texture and flavor in and of itself, then scooping up a cross-section of the goods to get the mashup to my taste buds as fast as possible.

    mushroom and walnut strudel: flaky pastry crust, green garlic mashed potatoes, seared asparagus, herbed green peppercorn cashew cream, blood orange and black olive relish. $23.9

    mushroom and walnut strudel: flaky pastry crust, green garlic mashed potatoes, seared asparagus, herbed green peppercorn cashew cream, blood orange and black olive relish. $23.9

    Our other entree was Mushroom and Walnut Strudel, a sort-of pastry chimichanga crammed full of walnuts, mushrooms (yeah, pretty much everything on the menu was based around mushrooms) floating in a cashew cream sauce with an incredible olive and mushroom relish. Seriously, this is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever eaten: crispy, decadent, filling. Words really defy this dish, other than it had more of the consistency of a dessert, like a cannoli, but without the sweet.

    Talking of dessert, as our tubby tummies were about to explode we made a pact NOT to order dessert UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES. Well, that was until the people NEXT to us ordered dessert. Once I laid eyes on what they had, I knew I had to have it. I feebly muttered: “errr, one of those, please….” as I pointed to the next table when the server asked if we were ready for the check (like I said, they were rushing us).

    vegan chocolate midnite pie

    vegan chocolate midnite pie

    Within about 11 seconds, something called a Chocolate Midnight Pie arrived on our table and was gone in not many more seconds. I can’t really describe its creamy chocolatey taste in any words, so I’m going to let you look at the picture, and can reinforce that the dish was at least 14X better than it looks.

    After the obligatory bottle of organic wine, our bill was well into car payment territory, but we felt that it wasn’t quite worth every penny. The obvious intent to turn many tables quickly really spoiled what would otherwise have been a perfect dining experience. The menu combines the exquisite with the mundane, and the descriptions really don’t give you much of a clue about what you’ll actually get. Add to that some rushed servers, and this place isn’t too friendly.

    millennium interior

    Also of note is that Millennium is in the lobby of a Best Western hotel, on the edge of Tenderloin: basically, Downtown San Francsico’s Skid Row. If you go West or South from the restaurant you’re walking through some pretty bad urban decay complete with all the trimmings: aggressive homeless people, syringes, toothless crackheads and all sorts of bodily ejected solids in your way.

    millennium in san francisco

    It was just our luck that we walked to Millennium from the south and west, so we were treated to several interesting run-ins with street-folk, and as we approached the restaurant watched somebody taking a noisy shit against the wall on the west side. After ducking into the restaurant, I was half-way through my meal when I realized the defecating gentleman (or his defecation, at least) was within about six feet of where I was eating.

    homeless dude chillin' on the other side of our table at millennium

    Millennium will risk your life with a dodgy journey, fleece you for every penny it can get from you, and pack you in like vegan sardines in a recycled, non-GMO can. I’d probably be back there in a heartbeat, though.

    580 Geary St
    San Francisco, CA 94102-1650
    (415) 345-3900

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30 responses to “Millennium in San Francisco: a thousand tastes under one roof” RSS icon

  • Millennium is a great place to eat but does get noisy at peak times and is WAY overpriced for what you get and where it is. Yeah, and there is a lot of shit and vomit on that block for sure.

  • you haven’t dined at Millennium until you’ve had the seasonal chef’s tasting menu. There is no other way to eat there.

  • i totally walked by this place during my last trip to SF and never even realized what was there! it was probably close to the street corner where i saw a homeless man using a window ledge as a toilet seat.

    those sesame crusted mushrooms are the stuff dreams are made of, and i’d RARELY say that about mushrooms. mmmm. i’m gonna make jonathan take me up there for our anniversary… OR ELSE.

  • “watched somebody taking a noisy shit against the wall on the west side.”

    That certainly makes me hungry.

  • “DESERT”

  • You totally need to pull an Operation Pancake on this place.

  • @blisters DESERT? I have no idea what you’re talking about 😉

  • Thanks for the review! I’m heading to San Fran this weekend and may stop into Millennium.

  • Millennium has, of course, been on my list of places to try, but I’m glad I read your review before undertaking the adventure. I’ll be far more prepared when I actually do have the chance to dine there.

  • While the food at Millennium is incredibly adventurous, the service is decidedly rushed and, as the reviewer states, the wording on the menu is confusing as you never really know what you’re going to get. The servers are also clueless about the menu items.

    Also, it is crowded and overpriced probably by as much as 50%.

    If you dine there, do stay in the hotel above it. Although it’s a Best Western in a weird part of town, the rooms are really cool and if you stick to walking east along Geary you will be fine and safe.

  • im going in 40 fucking days

  • I have to say that I’m pretty disappointed by this review. I’ve eaten at Millennium twice now and have had an amazing experience each time.

    Our waiter/waitress each time was really, really knowledgeable and always gave answers to our questions that indicated he/she had a more than thorough understanding of the food.

    Also, I never noticed the crowded atmosphere that you mention here. Just looking at the composition of the tables in your photo, for example, leaves me at a loss for how it would be possible, unless they just started adding new tables to the floor as the night goes on. My mom and I (note: not Natalie Portman/Alicia Silverstone, although I wish) even got seated at a booth one of the two times that we went.

    I would also assume that the prominence of mushrooms on the menu is due to the season. Their menu changes often and generally reflects what is in season/fresh at the farmer’s market, and right now is the time of the year for mushrooms. Both times that I went there was a nice mix of offerings for entrees.

    Lastly, I’ve never felt rushed while eating there. We had to ask for the check ourselves each time, and happily sat and talked over wine for a while.

    Of course I trust that your experience was as you tell it, but hopefully you’ll give it another chance. I hate to see a restaurant that I really love get bad press.

  • @Valerie H. : You have been fortunate to sit in the front of the restaurant where it’s much more pleasant for sure. Down the back by the kitchen (where we were) it was decidedly unpleasant as the tables are much more crowded together. Our hearts sank as the greeter walked us past empty, nice tables and sat us down in between two other occupied tables (we had to move our table just to get in).

    We were there at peak hours on a Saturday night, but the experience was only just tolerable.

    We’ll be back at Millennium soon, and will of course report back.

    Agree on the mushroom seasonality: and I love mushrooms so no complaints there at all. Only thing is, mushrooms are not seasonal – they grow crowded together in the dark – just like being seated in Millennium.

  • @valerie h: although i am not the one who wrote this review, i was there and i loved my meal despite the rushed/crowded experience.

    i will make mr meaner take me back, FOR SURE.

  • That strudel thing looks absolutely incredible. I would gladly make the trip for that. However, $11 for flatbread is a bit ridiculous.

    I can’t wait to eventually try this place.

  • Hysterical and true review. When I went to Millennium, the ingredient du jour was pomegranite so you lucked out with the mushrooms.

    QG, in this upscale vein I urge you to try Philly’s Horizons and NY’s Blossom. Enjoy!

  • The chef is a mushroom junky. The whole menu is a mushroom oily mess. They totally jerked me around last visit, will never go again. San Francisco has me on the downs in general. Was just there two months ago and it was like a homeless / beggar / sketchy war zone. I didn’t feel comfortable or safe walking on any of the streets and I just completed 5 months of backpacking through Europe and only once felt unsafe for a brief moment in a subway outside Prague. I felt unsafe most of the time I was on the streets in SF… I went 4 years ago and didn’t experience any of that at all??? Is the world going to hell?

  • Thanks, lady 🙂
    I will say for Millennium, though, that the morel mushroom seasonal dish I ate was nothing short of spectacular.

  • I don’t think I could watch somebody take a dump six feet from my table and then follow it up with Chocolate Midnight Pie!

  • WOW!!mushroom and walnut strudel:looks amazing
    and that pie…oh my!so good looking.wish there was a place here like that.

  • I love Millennium! If only Madeleine Bistro had food that good!

  • I have to agree with QG and MM on the tables near the pastry/salad kitchen. (Around the left side of the bar.)

    In my only trip to the restaurant we sat at the two-top one table away from the pastry/salad kitchen.

    The tables to our left/right were so close we did wind up discussing the food and everything else with the couples next to us… whether we wanted to or not.

    I felt especially bad for a couple down the way who seemed dressed for a special occasion (he brought a huge bunch of roses and who knows… he might have even been thinking of popping “the question” that night.) But with other couples so close, I can imagine an especially romantic evening would be difficult.

    Our waitress was knowledgeable about ingredients, but when asked, was not inclined to make a recommendation as to which of two items to order. (While it’s totally an opinion, I often look to the waitstaff to know what is most popular/tastes best/is really special.)

    The food, while very good did not quite meet my expectations and therefore Madeline Bistro still wins between the two.

    Millennium really has the winning location once inside, but they waste the grand atmosphere by making you annoyed by the person wiping their mouth with your napkin. (Taken off your lap [by mistake of course], as you were sitting so close to the next table your legs almost touched.)

    We did also have to move our tables to get in/out, as did the couples on both sides. (Hint – make the person that has to go pee the most sit on the outside.)

    Parking in a nearby building, we avoided all of your noted homeless encounters and fecal projectiles.

    Mr. W

  • Weird, I’ve eaten at Millennium probably about a dozen times (mid-week, busy weekend nights) and never felt rushed during the meal. If anything it’s usually the opposite – we typically expect to be there for a few hours and like that they take their time. Also, it sounds like you just had bad luck on the tables. I’ve been seated in booths or large tables as a 2-person party, but there are a few small ones crammed together that I agree are not ideal. But I’m from NY, so I’m pretty used to that sort of thing. I still stand by it as my favorite!

  • my b/f is a hardcore vegan (I’m vegetarian, but mostly stick to vegan, making the move after 12/31/09). we eat at millennium at least once a month, and this review is exactly right. crowded, rushed, inconsistent and in a shitty (literally) part of town doesn’t redeem the amazing food that you can sometimes get here.

    thanks QG. come back to SF soon.

  • I eat at this place all the time. Great food, good service yet vomit in the doorway until they hose it down before opening. Way overpriced, especially the wine.

  • Shocking that so many VEGANS can be so unsympathetic toward homeless PEOPLE.

  • @ Lee Lee

    I just have to say–
    being a vegan has absolutely nothing to do with what we think of homeless people. sure they have to shit on the sidewalk, but no one’s looking forward to stepping in it. doesnt matter who the fuck you are, no one wants to feel unsafe either when they walk down the street.

    your assumption that vegans must be generally more sympathetic towards ALL beings is flawed. eat people, not animals. maybe I’m kidding, maybe I’m not.

  • I just celebrated my wedding anniversary by getting the tasting menu at Millennium. It was WAY overpriced (something like $70/person at the table), to be sure, but WOW! What an experience for my tastebuds! I still get all excited thinking about the plate of desserts they brought out for us. I’d go back. I wasn’t up-to-speed on the street situation, though, and it WAS a bit scary. I have compassion for the mentally ill and the homeless, but that doesn’t mean I want to have to duck punches from battling homeless or hit people who are twirling in the middle of the street while strewing obscenities. I think next time I might park somewhere safer and take a cab in because, really, when you’re already paying out the ass for some gourmet food what’s a bit more for cab fare?

  • Douglas Novack

    I have a home in San Francisco and my favorite vegan restaurants are all right here. I love the Millennium, probably the greatest vegan restaurant in the world. I have been a customer since the first day they opened on McAllister Street. They never seem to amaze me with their creativity and unequivocal flavors and presentations. Every time I dine at the Millennium I feel as though I had a religious experience.

    I also love Cafe Gratitude. They are very consistent, fresh and delicious. The place is a fun place to dine and meet people.

    Herbivore is always a safe haven for vegans. Their food is usually consistent and good…..I normally get their salads and fresh squeezed juices.

    If you want to try something out of this world, try Dosa on Filmore. It is an eloquent Indian fusion restaurant. There are tons of vegan choices. I always get the sprouted mung salad and the beet soup. Really delicious and a fun place to dine at and have some drinks.

    Then there is Alive….It is small, very creative and delicious. They have a booth at the Saturday Ferry Building Farmer’s Market…..

    There are a lot of great places to go to in San Francisco. Most of the African, Moroccan, Persian and Middle Eastern restaurants are all vegan friendly and will accommodate you. I have a favorite restaurant on Polk street that is Moroccan and they are very accommodating to my diet.

    The Slanted Door at the Ferry Building and Out the Back Door at the mall on Market are very good too and just tell them you are vegan and they will put your order in special. I always get the papaya and grapefruit salads. Their dressing has fish oil in it but they will substitute it to make it vegan. The same goes for Betelnut on Union Street….Try the Citrus on Haight; their vegan Soba noodles and vegetable soup is amazing and really cheap.

  • We ate there once, which was enough. Wouldn’t want to pay the exorbitant prices again even though the food was good; and if we want to experience cramped seating, we can always just go to RFD which is so much closer, LOL. (And at least RFD is in a relatively safe, civilized neighborhood….)

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