For various reasons that deserve a separate post, I went up to Napa for a couple days earlier this week. After reading about Ubuntu in the NYTimes and various food blogs, I was dying to try it for myself. It’s a vegetarian restaurant, but it’s the most artistic and boldly flavored on that I’ve been to. I ate at Ubuntu both nights that I was in Napa, and if I was still a local, it would easily be my local standby. And I should mention that it’s reasonably priced, with dishes ranging from $10-$14 or so, and are perfect for sharing; they’re technically small-bites plates. Although wine is kind of pricey per glass, you can get “tasting size” 2oz servings for $3-5 or so.
And the staff? So friendly and helpful. I sat at the bar, and felt very comfortable, chatting and doing a little paperwork.
I love restaurants that you make look at food in a new way, and to appreciate new flavor combinations without being overwhelmed. In this case, the ingredients are so immaculately cared for and presented. You notice their vibrant colors and unique shapes, and experiencing their unique flavors and textures is a special treat. It’s like a spa for all parties involved, except that it feels a little more decadent, and a little more masculine. In his NYTimes writeup, Frank Bruni says to that the space calls to mind a ski lodge, with its high ceilings and stone walls, and I felt that, too. I couldn’t remember what used to be there, and a bartender reminded me that it was a furniture store.
The bowl of the Caramelized Sunchoke Soup arrived dotted with a slow-cooked egg yolk, a quenelle of caramelized sunchokes, a sage leaf (fried?), and apple puree (I believe) before the waiter poured the soup inside. At first taste, the soup was already something otherwordly, making me wonder how the caramelization of the sunchokes led to such an elegantly smoky flavor… until I remembered that it is infused with coffee. It’s not weird for the sake of it, but a perfect pairing that gets even more exciting when sampled with the garnishes at will.
The Cauliflower in a Cast Iron Pot - roast-puree-raw-“couscous”, our vadouvan spice, coriander, and toast lived up to the legend of its cauliflower trifecta - creamy, crunchy, roasted.
The Carrot Gnocchetti with, among other things, mimolette cheese, turning it into a macaroni and cheese with a twist of carrot. I loved the garnish of micro carrots on top, as if growing out of a patch on to of the pot. Um, the pic… is not so clear.
As far as plating goes, you can tell it’s rather modern. Dishes tend to come layered in surprising ways in one vessel or strewn along a plate with a light hand.
This Braised Fig dessert was the first dish that I just had to take a picture of, with its figs, lavender meringue, lemon cream, edible flowers, and yogurt ice cream. The sprightly slivers of candied lemon peel were just the right touch for spikes of flavor.
I also loved the Chocolate “Cheesecake” in a jar, with huckleberries, cacao nib crumble, and perhaps the best tuile that I’ve ever had - deeply chocolate and light and shattering. Incidentally, I played with the idea of a candy bar made with chocolate nougat, dried blueberries, and cacao nibs last year, and this makes me want to revisit it.
The Medjool Date Cake was the last thing that I ate there, a perfect cube of moist cake, with candied quince… and earl grey ice cream… and caramelized apples (I think)… and matchsticks of apple…and candied lemon. The earl grey ice cream was such a delightful part of this dish, mingling so well with the other autumnal flavors that I can’t wait to play with the combination myself… and taste it again.
As all the “I think’s” show, I didn’t ask too many questions or take notes, or take pic’s of the menu as I used, too… I just wanted to relax and enjoy, and I did.