I’m so freakin’ happy about Ubuntu right now, I barely know where to begin. Truly. I’ve started this review two or three times already, and erased every previous attempt.
To catch you up on the scuttlebutt, Ubuntu is a new “vegetable” restaurant up in Napa. Chef Jeremy Fox, formerly of Manresa, serves up daily harvested organic food, largely from their own biodynamic garden. (Tended by Jeff Dawson, farmer to the stars. Apparently he’s hoed a row or two for French Laundry and Copia.)
In short, Ubuntu is a vegetarian epicure’s dream come true.
First came the pleasure of ordering ANY DAMN THING I WANTED OFF THE MENU WITHOUT A RISOTTO IN SIGHT. Bliss. I kept thinking, “Is this how meat eaters feel every day of the week?”
The menu itself is clean and minimal. Two “bites”, five starters, five entrees, four desserts. No muss, no fuss. We began our meal with the Assorted Olives marinated in Wild Fennel and Orange. The orange was subtle, providing a flavor that played peekaboo behind the olive. The other option was Marcona Almonds with Sea Salt and Lavender Sugar. We’ll get those next time, for sure.
I moved on to a Kohlrabi Soup, with raw Kohlrabi and its sprouts. (Cut to our lunch table, and me whispering, “What the fuck is a Kohlrabi?” Turns out, it’s a turnip-cabbage combo thingy. Who knew?) The soup was nothing short of exquisite, and I don’t bandy about words like that lightly. The tangy crunch of the raw Kohlrabi was the perfect complement to the slightly sweet, ultra-smooth heaven in a bowl disguised as soup.
My partner started with the Crunchy Vegetables and Redwood Hill Chevre. I recognized the visual appeal of the dish from our meal at Manresa. But where the version at Manresa felt like it relied solely on sea salt, Ubuntu’s take upped the ante with a Citron Vinegar. The acidity it delivered was spot on.
For my entrée, I opted for the Hickory-Smoked Brussels Sprouts and Creamed Lentils with Gravenstein Apple BBQ, and Celery Root Salad with Baby Mustard. Now, here’s another thing meat eaters take for granted—hickory smoked anything. It’s one of those flavors you just don’t get to enjoy very much as a vegetarian. And damn if this wasn’t a fine example of it. The Brussels Sprouts were kissed with just the right sweetness. The lentils were cooked perfectly, bathed in the most subtle, creamy wonderstuff imaginable.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the table, my partner had the Young Root Vegetables Roasted with Saba, Anson Mills Farro, Puree of Sucrine du Berry Squash. I was initially hesitant about this dish. I mean, roasted vegetables? It seemed like a cop out. Then I tasted them.
The vegetables were roasted in a way I’ve never tasted before. (And mind you, I’ve eaten a LOT of roasted veggies in my day.) I don’t know what the hell these people did to them. There may have been a pact with the devil involved. There was no char, just submission. Melty, delicate submission.
On to dessert. Vanilla Bean “Cheesecake” in a Jar with Sour Cherries and Pine Nut Sable, then a Shot of Hot Chocolate infused with Blue Bottle Coffee, topped with a Stroopwafel and Foamed Condensed Milk.
I’m running out of superlatives, kids. I’m not a cheesecake gal, but I was ready to get down on one knee and propose to this little jar of deliciousness. Yacht Rock ain’t got nothin’ on the smoothness of Ubuntu’s “cheesecake.” There are babies’ asses out there that WISH they could be this smooth. (Am I going too far? Stop me any time. Really.)
The hot chocolate shot walked a tight rope of bitter and sweet, with the stroopwafel tipping the scales to sweetness whenever necessary. It was the perfect size, too. Just enough to end the meal, but not so much that you felt like jogging home to pay for your sins.
Ubuntu has just one fatal flaw. It’s not in San Francisco. (Or more specifically, as we mused at the end of lunch, it’s not downstairs from my condo.) Jerks.