Vegan Restaurant – 21-year old vegan restaurant announced it was being forced out of the Hotel California

 

We rarely get a chance to say farewell to a restaurant. If we’re lucky, we spot a blog post warning us the restaurant has closed before passing by an apologetic sign in the door or finding a 404 message where the website used to be.

So I wasn’t surprised that, when my partner and I ate at Millennium’s San Francisco location for the last time, about a month after the 21-year-old vegan restaurant announced it was being forced out of the Hotel California, reservations were short and the room was filled with other celebratory mourners.

Of course, Millennium isn’t going away — it’s just leaving San Francisco.

Chef Eric Tucker and GM Alison Bagby said goodbye last week, but are moving the restaurant, under the same name, to Rockridge, with all luck taking just a month off to renovate their new space. But the departure of the city’s highest-profile, most successful vegan restaurant is a loss for San Francisco, and one that reverberates as strongly in certain circles as the closure of Capp’s Corner or Empress of China.

Before Millennium, there was Millie’s in San Rafael, a smaller, more casual vegetarian restaurant owned by brothers Brian and Dennis Malone and Dennis’s wife, Margaret. Eric Tucker started at Millie’s in 1991, moving to California from New Jersey to do his culinary school internship. Restaurants on the East Coast didn’t give a damn about produce, the chef remembers. At Millie’s, he says, the cooks would drive to the farmer market and hash out the night’s menu at the produce stalls. It was inspiring. He had no desire to train elsewhere.

Over the course of Tucker’s three years at Millie’s, the menu grew in complexity, shedding the macrobiotic heartiness — brown rice, aduki beans, kombu — that characterized the vegan cuisine of the time in favor of Asian and Latin flavors, which suited the traveler in Tucker just fine. In 1994, Joie de Vivre hotels CEO Chip Conley invited Millie’s owners Dennis and Margaret Malone to move to the ground floor of his Abigail Hotel on McAllister Street, and Margaret jumped at the chance; if Greens could do such good business, there should be room for a high-end vegan restaurant. Tucker came along as head chef.