Ubuntu (long review)
My husband and I enjoyed a very good lunch at Ubuntu on Friday. Here are some (long!) notes from our meal.
The restaurant itself is light and airy with a definite "yoga-studio" vibe (probably because there actually is a yoga studio upstairs!). The other diners were an interesting combination of grunge and yuppie with several children thrown in ~ this is a child-friendly place in the daytime and we will bring our own baby next time.
Picholine, nicoise & castelvetrano olives marinated in chili and garlic - we always order olives when we can since great olives are so hard to find outside of restaurants. These were delicious, especially the meaty picholines and castelvetranos. Huge amount for $5 too.
Sunchokes - deep-fried and served with romesco sauce. This was our first time trying sunchokes and they were *interesting*; definitely worth experimenting with at home. They have an earthy flavor and the texture of an artichoke. They were expertly deep-fried; crisp on the outside and creamy on the inside. However, can't say we were into the romesco sauce. This tasted strongly of red peppers and was a bit acidic for our taste -- and we didn't taste any bread or nuts, which usually go in this sauce. It wasn't bad ... just didn't taste like a usual romesco.
Chickpea salad - this was fantastic! Small chickpeas slathered in a delicious (black and green) olive vinaigrette and fresh herbs. There were fresh herbs (chervil, mint, tarragon) in every bite. There were red pepper quenelles as well, which dissolved into the dressing as we ate, and slivers of manchego. Just a big bowl of wonderful zesty goodness. Definitely a replicate-at-home recipe.
Artichokes - Braised artichokes, seasoned with a tasty lemony vinaigrette and served atop a bed of burrata. The burrata was very fresh and milky, as it should be. The artichokes were pretty good but -- nothing special. Personally i think artichokes pair better with a harder cheese such as pecorino but the burrata, to me, wasn't a great partner for this vegetable.
Anson Mills grits with hickory smoked brussel sprouts - fantastic. It's very hard to make a vegetarian main course, without tofu, which is substantial and full-flavored. (We should know - we're vegetarian and we're tired of eating lasagna for a main course!). This was really satisfying and delicious. First, a bed of creamy grits. These grits are coarse-ground with a strong corn flavor. They were buttery and creamy (and cheesy but not overly so) -- i could have eaten them plain. On top were those smoked brussel sprouts, which were glazed with a smoky tasting sauce and very tender.
Anson Mills farro with winter vegetables - i was pretty excited about the farro itself, which looked and tasted nothing like the farro i've eaten or cooked before. large, meaty grains with great flavor. sadly, we didn't care for the veggies (sunchokes, turnips, baby radishes i think too). they had been cooked with prunes and we just didn't dig the sweet flavor. i know other folks have really enjoyed this dish; not sure why we didn't.
** if you read the SF chronicle review, you will now be asking yourself, "where are the egg dishes?" well, sadly, they don't have them at lunch!! this is why i will eat dinner here next time. the dinner menu (we realized later) is MUCH more extensive and includes all kinds of goodies including, currently, two dishes with black truffles and a potato dish in the style of joel rubechon. and many recipes featuring "slow cooked eggs." we felt cheated. :-(
we had the famous deconstructed cheesecake, which i regret to tell we did not enjoy at all. cute presentation - a mason jar with a layer of "cheesecake" on the bottom (?? cream cheese plus mascarpone?), then a layer of sour cherries (terrific), graham cracker crumbs and then whipped cream. i don't know -- we just found the cheesecake part to be overly rich and creamy. we couldn't even finish it and -- we are not the kind of people who ever leave dessert unfinished, even if we are stuffed (i know, bad habit).
winter citrus float -- this was so fantastic!! surprise hit. i could have eaten five of these. in a glass, starting from the bottom:
- pieces of winter citrus (candied kumquat, tangerine, grapefruit)
- pieces of compressed cranberry and pomegranate - they mixed the juices and then used a vacuum compressor to make a firm jelly
- a grapefruit granita
- poured over was a slightly effervescent "soda" flavored with lemongrass and kefir lime.
it doesn't sound like much but the flavors worked so well together.
to drink -i had a glass of hall vineyards sauvignon blanc (very nice though i should have thought ahead and had something which would complement the food more) and my husband had some wonderful lemonade. the bill for two was around $100.
Thanks for posting this! I'm definitely coming with you guys next time. BTW, Boulette's Larder carries the Anson Mills polenta (maybe the carry the farro too!) We should get some and play with it.
Ubuntu Restaurant & Yoga Studio
1140 Main Street, Napa, CA 94558
Very nice report. I'll bet this place is going to be even more spectacular in the summer at the height of produce season.
Great review...We had lunch on the past beautiful Saturday. The restaurant was full but no lines waiting for tables. Our lunch was wonderful and there was an egg item on the menu. We had leeks and a slow cooked egg. (2 hours cooked at a very low temp)...the egg is very creamy. Only wish was they improve their tea selection; one member of our party wanted a black tea that you could add milk. The meal service and presentation were very pleasant. They also were very accomodating to diet restrictions. They listed what I could eat and willingly put to the side(actually another plate) the items I was allergic to-- so others could enjoy that item.
re: Xiao Yang
Ubuntu is a South African word that describes a philosophy of humanity that is inextricably linked to hospitality. So, in the Ubuntu phiosophy, to embrace humanity, I offer you hospitality, which includes sharing a meal. Hence, the name of the restaurant.
The Linux software Ubuntu came much later, so named because the free operating system "brings the spirit of Ubuntu to the software world."
Try to visit the restaurant.
The yoga studio is apart and upstairs from the dining room.
And though I am a carnivore, I never felt anything less than full satisfaction from the developed flavors of every single dish. I was dazzled. Truly.
Another thing: fantastic music, piped in.
And I love the stone walls, the warmth of the lighting, the feel of the place.
And last, when you walk into the restaurant, it smells FANTASTIC. Like great food.