Tuesday, September 25, 2012

San Francisco, California (Sept. 2012)

I chose not to follow my own travel tips on a recent visit to San Francisco when I limited my dining experiences to restaurants that are strictly vegetarian.  I was there to attend the wedding of a vegan couple, and they insisted that I try two of their favorite spots. 

They recommended Millenium, an upscale, romantic place near Union Square, and Gracias Madre, a casual, lively Mexican restaurant in the Mission District (and definitely not the place you want to go for a romantic evening, given that most of the tables are communal).  Both restaurants serve organic, vegan cuisine, and I was pleased (and a bit surprised) to see how popular they were (we had to make reservations at Millenium weeks in advance and put our name on a waiting list at Gracias Madre before getting seated).  Both places were packed.

The menu at Millenium changes regularly, depending on the season.  I regret that I was not hungry enough to try some of the appetizers, because my entree was really quite delicious.  I ordered the sweet soy, peanut, and chile-glazed tempeh, which was served with coconut and anise rice, seared bok choy, snap peas, baby carrots, Asian aromatics, and Asian pear sambal.  My dining partner had the red beet risotto cake, which was served with roasted chanterelle mushrooms, sage and fennel seed smoked tofu, red corn, roasted padron peppers, seared rapini, sherry corn-cashew puree, herb oil, and crisp beet chip.  Clearly, both dishes were quite complex and boasted a lot of different flavors.  

Sweet soy, chili, and peanut-glazed tempeh at Millenium

Red beet risotto cake at Millenium

The food at Gracias Madre was less fancy, but just as creative.  I tried the grilled plantain empanada, which was my favorite, and the sweet potato "quesadilla," which was unexpectedly spicy and extremely filling.  My dining partner enjoyed the mole enchiladas.  All dishes (except the guacamole and chips that were immediately devoured after a long wait for a table) are pictured below.

Gracias Madre's homemade empanada is stuff with grilled plantains and
served with spicy mole sauce and cashew cream.

Gracias Madre's "quesadilla de camote" is filled with sweet potato and carmelized onions
and topped with cashew nacho cheese and pumpkin seed salsa.

Gracias Madre's enchiladas are served on a bed of spicy mole sauce and topped with mushrooms
and cashew cheese and served with sauteed greens and refried black beans.

I am glad that I tried Millenium and Gracias Madre, but I also look forward to returning to San Francisco one day soon so that I can see how some of the best, mainstream restaurants in this vegetarian-friendly city accommodate non-meat eaters.

Millennium on Urbanspoon

Gracias Madre on Urbanspoon