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Thursday, February 7, 2013

Let there be light, the beautiful food at Millennium Restaurant San Francisco

In San Francisco I just discovered a new gourmet restaurant just blocks from the heart of Union Square. Well, new to me. Everyone else has probably known about it for ages. What took me so long? I have no idea but have to say thanks to my friend Michelle for the introduction because for years I thought Greens was my favorite vegetarian/vegan restaurant in the city. Now it has some serious competition.

On my second night in San Francisco last week, which would have been the first day of the Macworld Expo, I met Michelle at Millennium for dinner. As a vegan she'd asked if I was willing to eat there. I took a look at the website menu and thought it was a perfect place for us to meet.

I simply had to try the Black Cornmeal Polenta Cake ($12.25) with sundried tomato cashew cheese, capers, sherried sunchoke puree, caramelized leeks and fennel, and Calabrian chili paste.

I suspect the flavorful blend of the sunchoke puree and the Calabrian chili paste would make anything and everything taste amazing but with the polenta cakes it was a perfect balance of flavors and textures and in that moment, was the best tasting thing I could recall eating in months. The dish was a "starter" rather than an entree allowing me to indulge in the additional "small plates" I'd ordered.

Food Photography Tip:
And an aside for any hobby food photographers out there. This is what the food looked like sitting before us in the dimly lit dining room. The only reason I was able to capture the more clear and colorful images in this post was because I noticed that at the interior end of each booth there was a wall mounted light at each table. This is important because I will not use a flash in a restaurant. It's too disruptive to the other diners. So once our food arrived we slid each plate down to the far end of the booth for its spotlight moment. It worked really, really well.

It's kind of a shame that the average diner probably doesn't see how beautifully prepared each dish is. Presentation makes up a large part of the dining experience along with the way food tastes so unless you shine some type of light on your dish you're only enjoying part of the visual experience Millennium has to offer.

Michelle had the Sweet Potato Tamale ($23.50) with smoky pecan & poblano chile filling, black bean chocolate mole, winter greens & caramelized onions, avocado, pickled onion-nopales salsa, and a spicy pumpkin seed emulsion. This is one of the restaurant's most popular dishes. I think I'll have to try it on my next visit.

The rest of the small plates we shared. Seared Brussels Sprouts ($8.00) with an orange miso glaze, smoked tofu, and chile flakes. I'm still not sure where in the dish the smoke tofu was but it was another great dish. I've never put citrus on Brussels Sprouts when I make them at home but I think I'll have to try experimenting before winter is over.

The Pan Roasted Fingerling Potatoes ($7.00) with green olives, lemon, oregano, chile urfa & garlic aioli were a surprise only in that they were like French fries since they were quartered length wise. They were definitely tasty and something hubby would enjoy as long as he didn't see the actual menu description. LOL. He'd say they were too fancy and full of "weird" ingredients but he loves oven roasted potatoes.

Roasted Beets ($8.00) with hazelnut oil, balsamic vinegar, and thyme. In the dark of the room you couldn't possibly see the rich color of the beets or balsamic. Or the yellow tinge to the hazelnut oil. It was a very beautiful plate and I'm glad we were able to both see and enjoy it.

Dinner had gone so well we decided to try dessert. I ordered the Sweet Endings ($7.00), an assortment of tiny house made cookies and truffles. It was all so light and fresh. And the truffles smooth, rich, and just the right size. They were about the size of a quarter.

Michelle had the Carrot Cake ($9.25) with ginger & carrot mousse, brown sugar-rum reduction, cardamom ice cream, and apple compote. She wasn't a fan of the cardamom ice cream but I liked it.

So here's the funny part. When she asked about the location I thought to myself it's just a few blocks from the convention center. Macworld closed at 5:00 PM that night so I thought it would be no problem to arrive in time for our 5:30 reservation. What I didn't realize, until it was too late, was once I passed Market Street the remaining seven blocks were all uphill. Ugh. Even after swinging by the hotel at 5th and Mission to quickly change clothes then trudging my way up to Geary Street I still managed to make it there precisely at 5:30 sharp.

You may have walked past Millennium yourself but just haven't realized it. The restaurant is located in the lobby of The Hotel California. It's to your left as you enter the front door of the hotel.

Just three short blocks west of Union Square and a block down from the Curran theater all I could wonder was how had I not been here before? That problem will soon be remedied as it is now one of my favorite restaurants in all of San Francisco and if he's never been there, I can't wait to introduce it to my friend Carl.

Millenium Restaurant - website
580 Geary Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 345-3900

The red A is the restaurant location and the blue dot was my hotel

Location Tip: For tourists unfamiliar with the area.

I mention this only because in Yelp the restaurant shows up as located in The Tenderloin but there's no need to be alarmed by its location.

While The Tenderloin is statistically more dangerous than surrounding neighborhoods, to visit the outskirts, especially along Geary Street, is relatively safe. As mentioned in the post just three blocks east of Millennium is the upscale Union Square shopping district and just a block down Geary from the Restaurant is the Curran Theater where everyone goes to see Broadway shows.

Just be street smart: Stay off your cell phone, be aware of your surroundings, and walk with confidence. If you feel unsafe hail a cab or go for lunch instead of dinner. The worst thing that's ever happened to me on Geary Street was the time a pigeon flew up from the sidewalk and smacked me in the face with its wing. LOL

If I'd driven to the city for dinner at Millennium I would have parked in the Union Square parking garage located beneath the green lawn where the map says Union Square.

Had I walked back to my hotel that evening I would have felt comfortable taking Geary to Powell and Powell back down to Market and Fifth. But because it was late and dark Michelle insisted we share a cab and dropped me off on her way home.

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