Sunday, March 20, 2011

Ubuntu

 Ubuntu: "I am what I am because of who we all are." Not just a Linux operating system, Ubuntu is a restaurant in Napa, California that Bunny and I had the pleasure of visiting this weekend. Their biggest claim to fame is that for the past two years in a row (2010 & 2011) they have earned a Michelin star, despite being a vegetarian restaurant. In the midst of restaurants like Morimoto and others serving meat and fish with famous Napa Valley wines, Ubuntu presents itself openly as a "community-focused restaurant and yoga studio". Yep, they have a yoga studio next door. We tried a few dishes and while some other reviews of the restaurant said they left feeling hungry, we definitely didn't.

Presentation was a huge part of the dining experience at Ubuntu. Walking in the door we were greeted with a very open space, a stark contrast to the narrow Main St. the restaurant sits on. The colors are warm and inviting, with earth-tones aplenty. After we're seated and order, the bread arrives warm and the butter is soft.
 Our first taste of Ubuntu is the "soup shot" made with garlic and fava beans. On top was a pickled radish and edible flower, like many of Ubuntu's dishes. This might have been my favorite taste of the afternoon.
 Until we tried "The Garden Snake" - lightly dressed greens from Ubuntu's garden, leaves, flowers, and roots, dressed in ‘arbequina’ olive oil, soil, preserved lemon. There was also as carrot and mushroom "soil" garnishing the salad. This was above all the best salad I've ever tasted. I don't know why so many parts of a plant go uneaten when clearly they can be used in dishes like this. Other places serve "micro greens" which are similar, but these all have specific flavors and textures that play off of one another really well.
For my meal, I ordered the warm focaccia with truffled pecorino from florence and apricot/almond agrodolce, ‘ping pong’ radish, ‘rainbow’ chard, and crudit√©. Whatever way they prepared this, the focaccia reminded me of a giant potato chip. The cheese was very bold and soft, an all parts met wonderfully together in my mouth.
Bunny had an ubuntu steam bun stuffed w/ burrata and coated with sunchoke crumble, sunchoke tostones, winter citrus marmalade, mashua, and baby lettuces. The bun itself was very fresh and soft, and the cheese similar to a fresh mozzarella. The sunchoke (or Jerusalem Artichoke) had a distinctive earthy flavor, even in it's potato-chip consistency. The delicate foams, sauce and marmalade helped to tie the flavors together.

What I took away from this meal is just how vibrant everything tasted without the introduction of a heavy piece of meat along-side it. Each bite was bursting with earthy flavors that would be otherwise hidden if the various greens were soaked in the juices of a steak or mixed with the sauces that dress chicken. I think the dishes would work with fish, but again that's not the point. Ubuntu celebrates the food exactly as it is grown and carefully crafts its dishes so that nothing is missed through the experience.


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