Innovative Vegan Fare at Millennium

Tempeh and spaetzel at Millennium that taste like beef stroganoff.

Tempeh and spaetzel at Millennium that taste like beef stroganoff.

 

Recently, I dined with a companion at a vegan restaurant.

No, it was not with my husband, aka Meat Boy.

But even he enjoyed the leftovers I brought home afterward.

That tells you just how satisfying the cuisine is at Millennium in Oakland.

In fact, the majority of diners there are not strictly vegan. But they are lured by the creativity of Chef Eric Tucker’s dishes.

Millennium first opened in 1994 in San Francisco before moving to the Rockridge neighborhood across the Bay in 2015.

Even on a Monday night, typically a slow time for most restaurants, the dining room was packed.

Fried oyster mushrooms.

Fried oyster mushrooms.

My friend Sheila (also not a vegan) and I started with a big pile of Coriander and Arborio Crusted Oyster Mushrooms ($13.95). The Italian risotto rice used in the coating gives the mushrooms a heavier and toastier tasting crust. Pick one up and dip into the sweet-spicy habanero jam. It’s perfect finger-food.

Next came Poke ($14.25) that tasted every bit like the now ubiquitous Hawaiian staple usually made with ahi. Instead, this featured roasted Chioggia beets, red-hued and cubed to resemble raw fish. With pickled Mendocino sea beans, avocado, horseradish oil playing the wasabi role, and sesame-ginger dressing, it was a delight in flavor and texture. It was garnished with fuyu persimmon, shaved kohlrabi, and tapioca crisps that looked like chicharrones.

Poke -- with beets, not fish.

Poke — with beets, not fish.

We shared two mains. First, the Japanese Sweet Potato-Scallion Cake ($20.95). This is a staple for Tucker. Though the veggie cake is always on the menu, its mix of root vegetables and accompaniments change up seasonally.

Sweet potato-scallion cakes.

Sweet potato-scallion cakes.

Think of it as a riff on Chinese daikon cakes. Their texture is soft, though I wished they had more of that crusty sear that the Chinese ones typically have. The cakes, sweet and filling, were topped with custardy Japanese eggplant glazed in an Asian-pear miso mixture. More vegetables lay underneath, including tangy pickled cucumbers, edamame relish, and seared gai lan, snap peas and baby turnips. If a plate of vegetables can be comfort food, this definitely is it.

Sheila and I admittedly are both not the biggest fans of tempeh, even if we do like its cousin tofu. It has a firmer and earthier flavor because it is fermented. But Millennium’s version had us rethinking our aversion.

Maple Black Pepper Glazed Tempeh ($20.95) arrived on a bed of spaetzel and was napped with a red wine sauce. It very much mimicked the taste of beef stroganoff with a rich, deep “meatiness” to it. This wintery dish was finished with roasted turnip and celery root, hazelnut butter, and a pickled cabbage, apple and radish salad that provided a hit of liveliness.

Pumpkin layer cake.

Pumpkin layer cake.

For dessert, we shared the Pumpkin Layer Cake ($12). It was a beautiful piece of four-layer cake redolent of warm autumn spices. The cashew cream cheese icing was thick and creamy like a standard cream cheese one, though, the texture was a little gluier. The Cointreau-glazed thinly sliced persimmon “flower” on top was so delicious, I wanted an entire bowl of them. The dulce de leche ice cream lacked a real caramel flavor that I was expecting. Instead, it tasted more of coconut, probably owing to the fact that since it was vegan, it was probably made with coconut milk.

If you’re vegan, Millennium will no doubt satisfy. And if you’re not vegan, it will definitely open your eyes delectably to the possibilities.

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