Saturday, January 8, 2011

Dinner at Ubuntu in Napa

Ubuntu in Napa has been our favorite restaurant since it first opened in 2007. We don’t eat there often, so it is always with great anticipation that we look forward to a meal there. We haven't dined at Ubuntu since the original executive chef, Jeremy Fox, departed for other adventures, so I wasn’t sure if it would still live up to my expectations on this New Year’s Day visit.

We need not have worried; we were not disappointed. The new Executive chef, Aaron London, continues the tradition of creating magical vegetarian dishes with such depth and complexity of flavors, that even a confirmed carnivore will never miss the meat. We even tested that premise on a previous trip and our friend had to admit we were correct!

Squash Soup Shooter
Before we were even settled at our table, we were treated to a lunga de Napoli squash and squash oil soup shooter amuse bouch. The squash oil was made from soaking the squash rind in olive oil. The flavor was as rich as the color. We were off to a wonderful start.

The restaurant says “Our mission at Ubuntu is to bring to our customers a bounty of local biodynamically gardened produce handled with care and skill by talented artisans and chefs providing an unparallel experience connecting our customers to the bounty of the earth.” The evening’s menu consisted of a selection of nine seasonal small plate vegetarian dishes meant to be shared.

We had only dined at Ubuntu in the spring or summer and had never experienced the winter menu. Many of the ingredients we had never even heard of before!  We decided to start with only three selections and maybe leave room for dessert.

Squash Salad
Vadouvan spiced lunga di Napoli squash and torn brioche salad, brioche bread crust “gravy”, pine nut pudding, pickled Fuji apples, chervil.  This was our first choice. A delightful wintery salad with a gravy made of who-knows-what (all vegetable for sure) that we really enjoyed. I’m not even sure if the squash was cooked, it was shaved so thinly.

Long gone potato pillows
They deliver the dishes sequentially as they are listed on the menu and our next selection was a simple plate of blackberry leaf and potato pillow with Oregon truffle red choi, loopy sunchokes, goat’s crème fraiche, and Midnight Moon cheese. This one didn't look so great in a photo, but trust me, it was delicious. Can you tell by the empty plate?

Grits and beignets
Our third course was Arbuckle grits cooked with goat’s milk whey and finished with sharp cheddar goat’s milk ricotta and fennel frond beignets, salsa negra, local matsutakes. I had no idea what half these ingredients were, so I was going on blind faith here. I don’t usually eat grits and had no idea what matsutakes were. I was guessing mushrooms. But I have been badly deceived before when I thought something was a mushroom! (see The Heat Goes On). No bad surprises here. Rich flavorful mushroom, indeed, and the salsa negra was thinly shaved mushrooms with some other spices I couldn’t identify. The fennel frond beignets were the biggest surprise of the evening. Not typical beignets, New Orleans style, but light, airy cornmealy little puffs and not too fennelly. Who knew you could eat fennel fronds!!?? They were our favorite component of the evening.

Larry decided on a cappuccino, but I ordered dessert. I loved all the squash we’d had so far, so I ordered chioggia squash sorbet with Fuji apple cooked in caramel, hazel nuts, cranberries with bread cubes cooked in olive oil. It was a very light, yet seasonal dessert and I definitely could have eaten more.


The evening ended with one final amuse bouche – did I say how much I love an amuse bouce??!! Small spoons of candied orange and fennel. A perfect tiny sweet ending to a perfect evening.

Orange fennel finish

1 comment:

  1. I've heard of this place but living on the other side of the country means I haven't gotten there yet.