Category Archives: Exclusively Veg

Ubuntu rocks me. Again.

Did you ever meet someone who’s absolutely beautiful in every way? I mean, gorgeous to look at, kind-hearted, thoughtful, the whole package?

That’s Ubuntu. If I didn’t love the place so much, I’d have to hate it, because it’s just too perfect. It makes other restaurants look bad.

Okay, maybe I hyperbolize. But Christ, the place is good. Check out my original review for more gushing praise.

This Sunday’s lunch started with Leaves and Things, a perfectly composed salad of greens, flowers, herbs and roots. Then, Radishes with Chevre and Nori, with a mustard and banyuls vinaigrette and black sea salt. (Banyuls is a dessert wine. News to me.) Chevre and Nori together—what a revelation. And the black sea salt? Holy Mary, mother of God. It made the radishes sing in six-part harmony.

The Cucumbers with Miso “Bagna Cauda” was another stand out in an entirely outstanding meal. Let me lay down the players on the plate: Crispy fingerlings, ficoide glaciale (which is a succulent), shaved parmesan and olive caramel. Insane. INSANE. The ficoide glaciale shimmered as if it were frozen, and tasted like citrus surprise. The fingerlings added a warm, grounded goodness, and the olive caramel…well, the olive took the whole dish up to eleven.

The Cauliflower in a Cast Iron Pot. Comfort in a cup.

The Anson Mills Farros with Young Carrots. Vibration on a plate.

The Raspberry Sorbet Float with rose geranium soda, watermelon ice and lychee tapioca. Refreshment in a glass.

And the Mini Carrot Cupcakes with spiced frosting and tiny (tiny!) candied carrots. Bite-sized heaven.

I could go on and on, but that might keep you from clicking over to Open Table and making a reservation of your own. Go. Now. If you’re a vegetarian, you owe it to yourself. If you’re not a vegetarian, you’ll never think of vegetarian food in the same way again.

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Ubuntu: Can I Get an Amen?

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.

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Hallelujah

It’s a gorgeous, sunny, San Francisco Sunday, and I don’t have the time to write a full review of yesterday’s lunch at Ubuntu. But while you’re waiting for the 411, you can do me a favor. Go get an MP3 of Handel’s Massiah.  Then, when I start to describe Ubuntu, hit play on the Hallelujah Chorus. It’ll help set the mood.

Seriously.

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Blasphemy and Other Fun Vacation Activities

Are you ready to hear my dirty little secret? I don’t like most vegetarian restaurants.

There. I said it. The cat’s out of the bag. (Though admittedly, the bag was pretty flimsy to start with.)

Case in point: The Ravens Restaurant, at the Stanford Inn in Mendocino. I love everything about the place…except the food.*

My partner and just enjoyed a long—and painfully overdue—weekend at the Stanford. It’s a gorgeous lodge. Nice rooms with wood burning fireplaces, beautifully kept grounds and friendly people. They’re responsible innkeepers who respect the planet, compost their waste, and recycle everything. Plus, they’re animal lovers, just like me, so you can bring your dog along for an extra thirty-five bucks. (We did. She loved it.) So in keeping with the “kindness to all living creatures” thing, they have a vegetarian and vegan restaurant called The Ravens. And frankly, I’m just not that into it.

I know, I know! I’m waiting for a lightening bolt to strike me dead in my tracks as I write this, but I’ve got to tell it like it is. People are cutting the place way too much slack because it’s vegetarian. And I don’t want to play that way. If I’m going to rag on the mainstream restaurant world for not doing right by vegetarians, I can’t let veggie joints off the hook just because their politics agree with my own.

The food was flat, y’all. The red bell pepper coulis on my Lasagna Fresca was bitter to the point of distracting. My partner had the Tamales, which came with a big side of rice, and amounted to a giant pile of flavorless carbs.

And here’s the other thing. The menu was freakin’ all over the place. No focus, no vision, just a lack of meat as the unifying principle. Sadly, I found this to be true at a lot of vegetarian restaurants. Now don’t get me wrong—I love it when I get to order freely off a menu. It’s a nice change of pace. But tighten it up, people! Show me a point of view. It shouldn’t be “Good, for vegetarian food.” It should be “Good food, period.”

So go stay at the Stanford. It’s a wonderful, relaxing, beautiful place. Just beware that their restaurant gets an A for politics and a C for execution.

*The scones are good in the morning, though. I’ll give them that.

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