The Meals of the Millennium

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Melissa Kaseman

Vegetarian restaurants often suffer from a perception that they are, well, priggish — more about political correctness than sensual gratification, and filled with the kind of diners that take themselves, and their digestive systems, rather too seriously. Of course, there are a growing number of examples to the contrary, but I — a non-vegetarian not yet fully free of bias — have never seen a place that so thoroughly demolishes the stereotype than San Francisco's Millennium Restaurant,

Start with the space: a grand, high-ceilinged dining room in downtown's Hotel California, with a black-and-white tile floor, lush faux-leather booths, refurbished chandeliers and, at its center, an inviting horseshoe bar. This is the second home for the restaurant founded by chef Eric Tucker — a wunderkind whose interest in healthy eating was spurred by a youthful passion for long-distance running and the realization that he was hypoglycemic. (See pictures of San Francisco.)

Believing that organic, locally farmed ingredients could be fashioned into gourmet feasts free of meat, dairy, eggs or any other animal products, he developed a slew of complex, flavorful dishes for a menu that changes depending on what's in season and incorporates influences from Spain, India, Thailand and elsewhere. With charmoula (North African-style) grilled portobello mushroom, maple-glazed smoked tempeh, various rich curries and inventive salads, he has proven that he can take what die-hard carnivores sarcastically term "rabbit food" and turn it into the kind of meal that lingers long in the memory.

Add an extensive list of microbrews and organic wines, and you have a vegetarian restaurant that finally unites fine-dining pleasure with a sense of mission. I might be converted yet.

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