I heard the critic is a tough person. I like the Millennium, and to encourage "word of mouth" publicity, I am waiting for Eric Tucker to do a special Vegan and Living Foods Dining Out Menu for us. Eric was busy last Thursday during the day, Lucy M. went to his Macy's Chef's exhibition and she said it was FABULOUS. Lucy will encourage Macy to invite Eric back. Lucy was sorry she did not inform anyone about last Thursday's event. The review is not the best, but I'm sure Millennium will work out the kinks in a month. http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2003/05/11/CM156803.DTL&type=food
(hey, can anyone teach me how to cut and paste an article, without the advertising on the side?) New Millennium, Same Concept
Muddled dishes, excessive seasoning mar creative vegetarian restaurant
Michael Bauer Sunday, May 11, 2003 -->
The difference between San Francisco and New York cuisine comes down to this: The West Coast is more ingredient driven and the East Coast is more technique driven.
Millennium, the groundbreaking vegan restaurant that recently moved into grander quarters at Geary and Jones, plays up that distinction. The menu is a platform for the restaurant's philosophy of using organic products, encouraging sustainable agriculture and implementing composting and recycling programs. "We cook with only the freshest, organically grown produce and are proud to state that our restaurant is completely free of genetically modified food," the menu states.
These lofty practices are admirable, but now the kitchen needs to show more respect for individual ingredients and a little less reliance on techniques that mask the inherent flavors. The overriding cooking philosophy seems to be that if three ingredients are good, 10 are even better. At times the plates remind me of an artists' palette. The paint colors start out bright and vibrant, but turn muddy brown when mixed together.
Chef Eric Tucker, who has been working at Millennium since 1994, has developed a loyal following for his creative approach to vegetarian cooking without animal products (such as dairy and eggs) and very little added fat. It's obvious that a bolder approach to seasoning and combining ingredients is needed to compensate, but in many cases there's simply too much going on.
Indian Fauxlet ($15.95) takes three lines and more than 25 words to describe on the menu. The chickpea- and lentil-crusted smoked portobello (or seitan or tempeh) had a golden crust that tasted deep-fried. Biting into the mushroom was akin to walking into a smokehouse. It was so heavily seasoned that it left a lingering bitter, metallic aftertaste. The portobello halves were arranged atop peppery greens with mint and cilantro and interspersed with cubes of potatoes spiced with chile, cumin and coriander. Toasted pistachios dotted the perimeter along with dollops of cardamom-infused mango apricot chutney and squiggles of yellow saffron curry aioli.
Cardamom and other perfumed spices, magnificent when used with restraint, are used with abandon at Millennium, and can rob a dish of character. That was the case with the Rhone-braised French lentils with chanterelles and grilled polenta ($7.95). Crunchy cardamom seeds clung to the exterior of the roasted baby artichokes ($6.95) that were served with a saffron-curry aioli with preserved lemon.
Even fresh greens become dull when too much is thrown at them, as illustrated in the golden beets and fennel salad ($8.50). Flavorings included a blood orange vinaigrette, candied peel, onion, toasted pumpkin seeds, sage- parsley oil and fennel pollen. The chef arranged a star burst of endive spears filled with candied citrus around the perimeter. Ironically, the spears were devoid of any seasoning at all.
When cooks show restraint, the diner is rewarded. I loved the way the roasted abalone mushroom ($16.95) was allowed to dominate, the white fleshy slices fanned over a bed of coconut-braised pinto beans, encircled by a sprightly lemon-caper-chile mojo. A marinated red cabbage salad added a little crunchy relief. This was the best dish we found on three visits, and it was described on the menu in only one line. That became my new philosophy when ordering: The longer the description, the more muddled the flavors. Other dishes that fall into the one-line category include a refreshing Insalata Caesar ($7.25), a lemony mix of lettuce, carrots and croutons. You may not feel as if you're eating a true Caesar, but the flavors dance across the palate. The sea vegetable salad ($6.95) includes a black-blue mix of different kelp moistened with a tamari dressing and topped with orange. The salty flavor of the sea, the refreshing notes of citrus and the nuttiness of sesame form a near perfect triad.
Desserts present a special challenge because of the no butter, milk or eggs rule, but pastry chef Amy Pearce often rises to the occasion. The chocolate sampler - featuring a malt float, a dense almond midnight cake and a chocolate cannoli shell stuffed with a peanut butter mousse ($8.50) - will win converts. The Banana Pecana ($7.50), with the fruit sauteed in spiced rum with candied nuts and a date caramel sauce with a banana sorbet, is also very good. The mini strawberry shortcake ($4.25) with yuzu-glazed strawberries would have been great if the cooks had added a few more diced berries and been a little more generous with the sugar.
Pondering my disappointment during the visits, I began to think maybe it was just me, and that committed vegetarians have developed a different palate. On each visit, all of the nearly 100 seats were occupied with one of the most interesting, diverse crowds I've seen in some time. The host may have a shaved head with a lopsided red Mohawk, the waiters may sport purple tints - as do some of the patrons - but there's also a good mix of people who could pass for Pacific Heights swells.
With the publication of "The Millennium Cookbook" in 1999, Tucker has become enough of a name to draw meat-eaters as well as vegetarians. The spruced-up interior also adds to the cachet. The new restaurant retains many of the elements that gave the former resident, Brasserie Savoy, a Parisian sensibility: a black and white marble floor, dark wood enclosing columns and framing the windows and an impressive zinc-topped bar.
Some windows along the not-so-picturesque side of Jones have been covered with rust-covered scrims, and woven plastic curtains that look like gauzy fabric have been hung from the ceiling to separate the entrance and the dining areas. The more traditional chandeliers that once graced the ceiling have been replaced by open circular fixtures covered in a fishnet woven from recycled paper sacks. While these avant-garde additions echo the food, the bones are still French, making the design changes seem a little incongruous.
The main problem with the expanded Millennium, however, lies in what's happened to the service. The hosts that greets guests tend to be somber and not the least bit friendly, and the wait staff tends to be forgetful.
On our last visit, we were finished for at least 30 minutes before someone offered to remove our plates. Not once during that visit did anyone stop by to refill water glasses or to check to see if we needed anything. We saw a gaggle of staff at the back, but very few on the floor actually doing the work.
Yet the new Millennium has all the elements to be great, and I appreciate the sense of adventure infused in the food. However, to become fully realized the restaurant needs to do three things: edit, edit and edit.
PLENTY TO LIKE ON STELLAR WINE AND BEVERAGE LIST
Looking over the wine list at Millennium is a pleasant revelation. All the 130 selections are organic and they come from some of the best vineyards in the world including those of Spain, Chile, France, Italy, Austria, New Zealand and the United States.
In California, you'll discover names such as Robert Sinskey, Navarro, Niebaum-Coppola, Belvedere and Newton. In addition, the list also concentrates on more unusual varietals, which is designed to go with the creative bent of the vegetarian food.
In a word, the list is amazing and the markups are reasonable given the fact that the restaurant also offers more than 30 wines by the taste or the glass. Diners are encouraged to mix and match and to create their own flights, starting with three suggestions (all $8).
The list, created by manager Steven Taormina, is laid out in a consumer- friendly manner by weight. Within the categories, the labels are listed by price.
In addition to the still wines, Millennium offers seven dessert wines and five brandys, ports and a Prosecco sparkling.
Aside from a full bar, the bartenders also concoct nonalcoholic herbal elixirs to increase passion, energy or to calm the nerves, served in generous martini glasses. As expected, the restaurnat also offers a good selection of organic tea.
The excellent beverage program offers a something for everyone, although the benefits of having extensive and unusual selection are somewhat negated by what appears to be a lack of staff training.
If you want to bring your own wine, corkage is $15.
Michael Bauer is The Chronicle restaurant critic. E-mail him at mbauer@...
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MILLENNIUM 580 Geary St. (at Jones), San Francisco. (415) 345-3900. Dinner 5--10 p.m. daily and brunch 10:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Sunday. Full bar. Reservations and credit cards accepted. Valet parking $11. OVERALL: ONE AND A HALF STARS Food: ONE AND A HALF STARS Service: ONE AND A HALF STARS Atmosphere: TWO AND A HALF STARS . PRICES: $$ NOISE RATING: THREE FOUR BELLS
PLUSES: Creative vegan food (no animal products, or dairy and eggs). The simpler dishes such as the roasted abalone mushroom are delightful. MINUSES: Many dishes are too complicated and the flavors become muddled. Service is unprofessional and poorly organized.
RATINGS KEY FOUR STARS: Extraordinary THREE STARS: Excellent TWO STARS: Good ONE STAR: Fair (box): Poor. $ Inexpensive: entrees under $10 $$ Moderate: $10-$17 $$$ Expensive: $18-$24 $$$$ Very Expensive: more than $25 Prices based on main courses. When entrees fall between these categories, the prices of appetizers help determine the dollar ratings.. ONE BELL: Pleasantly quiet (under 65 decibels) TWO BELLS: Can talk easily (65-70) THREE BELLS: Talking normally gets difficult (70-75) FOUR BELLS: Can only talk in raised voices (75-80) BOMB: Too noisy for normal conversation (80+). Chronicle critics make every attempt to remain anonymous. All meals are paid for by the Chronicle. Star ratings are based on a minimum of three visits. Ratings are updated continually based on a least one revisit.
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