HOME > Chowhound > San Francisco Bay Area >

Discussion

03/08 Ubuntu: From The Same Folks That Sold You Bottled Water

Spoiler Warning: If you are an Ubuntu fan, read no further. I am well aware that any credibility I ever had in the CH community- will be lost forever with this post.Sorry, but I can only write the truth of my own experience. As many different people as there are in the world, there are as many different opinions.....

Thank heavens for Petit Secs from yesterday's Ferry Bldg. excursion to The Fatted Calf; they're taking the edge off my gnawing hunger while I enter this post.

There were four of us tonight at Ubuntu.From the beginning, all boded well. CH reviews by admired posters- had been largely positive. We walked in the door at 7PM and were completely surprised to be greeted by the handsome and talented GM who is an old acquaintance from Boston. We were seated at a handsome table with very comfortable chairs in a very handsome high ceilinged space, graced by some unusually good serious sculpture. There was a friendly comfortable inviting vibe about the place.

By the end of our evening, 9:30, we had shared 12 different items, some 'bites', some 'small plates', some ' large plates',and two desserts.Our friends were pleasantly satiated ; my love and I were ready to go out for dinner.

Revelations? Not a one. Appealing flavors?- many.Ridiculously skimpy portions?- the norm. Return? Never. N..E..V..E..R

Delicious:
Marcona Almonds w/ Lavender, sugar, salt. (and I detest lavender)
Fried sunchokes w/ romesco sauce
Red pepper and bread quenelles w/ marinated chick peas and whiff of manchego cheese
Yellow eye bean soup

O.K.:
table bread and butter
beet,mache,avocado salad
radish salad
cauliflower
carta da musica w/ pea shoots
robuchon potatoes w/ egg and red wine
anson grits w/ fava leaves and parm and carrot puree
chocolate souffle
vanilla cheesecake in a jar

I will go into disgruntled detail on only one plate as an example:

The white anson grits, maybe 1/2 cup, 8 tablespoons, were spread out on a large white plate in kind of a free form long puddle,topped with 3 fava leaves, 2 asparagus spears and 2 broccolini? sprigs, and accompanied by 1-2 tablespoons of mounded tangelo carrot puree. The grits tasted like they had been cooked in water. and unsalted water at that. No lovely rich multidimensional vegetable stock here. They were grossly undersalted and underparmesaned. As a matter of record, I would testify that there was no parmesan present. I added liberal salt and a requested side of parm. And did I mention the cost of this 'Large Plate' of 1/2 cup of grits? $21.00.

Service was o.k. Throughout the evening, the waitress consistently did not notice things that needed replenishing. One item we ordered never appeared. Her recs were crummy- the potatoes reblochon that she said we 'couldn't not get' were completely undistinguished, forgettable, and an insult to Chef Robuchon. She pushed the pizzas, but other CH posts saved me from following her lead.

BTW, The chef was present and on the line this evening. I'm sure he is very pleased with all the press and positive feedback he's been receiving.
And the owners? Well, they're certainly not the first , nor will they be the last, to build
an empire on air........ or bottled water. But it will not be me helping them purchase that island in the Seychelles........

My advice for those of you who want to be wowed by some great vegetarian food?- find a talented chef and eat her/his vegetarian offerings. (Just in the past week, both Cortez in SF and Redd in Yountville- have had many exquisite vegetarian offerings on their menus- with which one could easily put together a super many-dish dinner.)

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
Delete
  1. >potatoes reblochon ... Chef Reblochon
    >
    er, it is potatos with Reblochon or pommes Robuchon, or am i missing something?
    it's a fine line between cheese and chef.

    i do hate it when places charge high prices and skimp on quantities
    on stuff where the ingredient cost is low and the marginal labor is also low.

    ok tnx.

    8 Replies
    1. re: psb

      can you tell i'm tired? haha- thank you. i fixed it.!

      1. re: psb

        I have to disagree about the labor costs. Vegetarian food is generally a lot more labor intensive than meat-centered food. There's a lot more prep work in putting together a good vegetable dish than slapping a piece of meat on the grill. Even with more complicated meat dishes, most of the labor goes into the non-meat ingredients and sauces with it (which are essentially the same in vegetarian cooking), not the meat itself.

        1. re: Ruth Lafler

          If all meats were just "slapped on to a grill" I think I would become a vegetarian myself. But I don't think it's quite that simple.

          1. re: Ruth Lafler

            You're right, which I think is why psb wrote "marginal labor." It isn't that much harder to cook and serve a cup of grits instead of half a cup... even when you scale that to the number of plates Ubuntu serves in one night.

            1. re: kds

              Well grits, yeah (and the same could be said of a piece of meat). But in general vegetables need a lot of prep, and the more veggies on the plate, the more prep.

              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                re: meat ... obviously i'm not talking about high end meat and seafood
                where even a 5% increase in "food volume" might be a +$1 in ingredient
                cost.

                the disgruntlement is more along the lines of when you go to a
                decent [say +$40pax] and get a steak and they short change you
                on the mashed potatos. I suppose it would have been a reasonable
                norm to prevent wastage that you're welcome to ask for more of
                this kind of thing, but i think in many cases that would look odd.
                again, i mean not being greedy here and trying to get a free side
                dish ... i guess you're just going to have to trust me that my reaction
                was to an unresonably stingy portion [i dont remember a particular
                time/place/manner].

                1. re: psb

                  I was just arguing the comment about labor costs. The price of the ingredient is not necessarily correlated to the cost of the labor to prepare it. In fact, generally speaking, the more expensive the ingredient, the less has to be done to it. A $9 chef salad has a lot more labor in it than a $40 steak.

                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                    yes, except there was no comment about "labor costs" only a
                    comment about marginal labor costs, which is totally different.

                    there never was a implication there was a "correlation" between
                    any of these: ingredient cost, labor cost, marginal labor cost.

                    the point was mashed potatos are different from individually
                    crafted mini-desserts, or complicated sushi items etc. or say an
                    extra scoop of rice vs. an extra <insert individually cooked indian
                    bread type>.

        2. "I am well aware that any credibility I ever had in the CH community- will be lost forever with this post."

          Naaah. I haven't been to Ubuntu yet, but I have many friends and acquaintances who felt the same way you did.

          3 Replies
          1. re: Atomica

            Also not sure that you lose any credibility - everybody gets a voice here!

            I really liked our meal and appreciated the variety in vegetarian food that you don't tend to get elsewhere. For instance, a quick glance at the REdd menu only has one veggie salad (but it was a quick glance). OFten there is only a risotto or a pasta dish that is veggie. I am not vegetarian, but love to see creative things done and enjoyed having the meal.

            That being said - I was disappointed in the grits, because I felt the fava greens and asparagus couldn't stand up, but I did like the plain grits after a few bites. I love corn though. Our Ad Hoc meal was better - perhaps it was just a "on" day for Ad Hoc, but it was better. That doesn't diminish the charm for Ubuntu for me, although now I want to go back to try Cindy's backstreat Kitchen. We love Latin inspired food.

            1. re: jsaimd

              re your glance at redd's menu (i will be doing a long post about our fabulous lunch there yesterday), i really think that vegetarian foodies are likely to look at menus and ask for a dinner made up of particularly appealing vegetarian components from all the different dishes on the menu..... And chefs love it when clients appreciate their sides and sauces...

            2. Nah ... don't worry about creds ... just not your style.

              When I read this thread of yours where Paul H mentioned your not liking Manressa or Michael Minna and you said

              "( I cancelled our Coi reservation because preemie portions are even less appealing to me than child's portions. My Motto? : "Just Say No To Entree Quarks And Microscopic Drizzles! ")"

              Well, I thought uh, oh in terms of Ubuntu (Sorry, didn't read it till last night)
              http://www.chowhound.com/topics/503439

              Lots of people don't like MIchael Minna but since the Ubuntu chef is from Manressa it wasn't any surprise you wouldn't like the probably the same chef that was there on your visit and is doing a veggie version of some of what he did there.

              I always like the opposing posts like this and another recent 'meh' post. It gives readers a balanced view to decide if this is the thing for them or not.

              There is no restaurant on this board universally beloved (and btw, don't ever throw your money at French Laundry given your preferences ... at that price point mayhem might break out in the restaurant ... I didn't like FL much)

              There are people I wouldn't take to Ubuntu. My Chinese buffet loving SO's relatives who wanted to know where the real Chinese food was at Yank Sing ... would not like Ubuntu.

              There is a poster on the board that dislikes the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market with a passion. I would not suggest he go to Ubuntu. I actually admire his restraint for not chiming in on the Ubuntu threads.

              Actually the 'meh' report from daveena surprised me since her tastes often match mine ... but it might be a case of too many positive reports that resulted in an expectation bar that couldn't possibly be reached.

              The mixed opinions are great and give people a balanced view. I'm always sorry when people drop comments that they didn't like so and so place and with all the positive comments they didn't post. .

              The thing with Ubuntu is that despite glowing reviews here and in the press, it is still going to to have a rough go because it doesn't serve meat and has that yoga thing vibe. To me it wasn't precious for what it is ... like some other restaurants in that same category. It felt comfortable. So I hope people who would like joints like Manressa don't cross this off their list.

              Glad to hear you like that yellow bean soup though. I had that targeted for lunch on Friday but didn't make it to Napa in time. Looked like a big bowl of it too :-)

              6 Replies
              1. re: rworange

                Hi there, rw! I haven't seen you at the Ferry Building the last few Saturdays, are you OK?

                I don't think opinionatedchef's review is the shot heard round the boards your review of TFL was, because the target wasn't so big. But I give both of you an "Emperor's Clothes" award.

                You obviously couldn't have been referring to me, of course, but I personally haven't commented on Ubunto because I think it's just some kind of elaborate parody and I'm not one of your Gilpins that's going to be snookered by it. Besides, what happens in Napa stays in Napa (or should).

                1. re: Xiao Yang

                  Of course I wasn't referencing you, XY. Oxbow Market is filling my needs much better than Ferry Plaza ... so I'm more likely to be there these days.

                  That is the thing about Ubuntu though ... it sounds like a parody with that Yoga studio thingy ... and was one of the reasons I didn't have it on top of my list despite months of positive reports on Chowhound and elsewhere. I actually do have a low tolerance of what sound like gimmick restaurants going back to the days when the only gimmick was dinner theatre.

                  I was so taken aback that Ubuntu wasn't what I expected. Looking forward to my visit this week with a Chowhound friend. I won't have the element of pleasant surprise and I'm curious to see what he thinks.

                  Yes, Ubuntu is small potatoes.Only one restaurant that is hardly likely to spawn a chain. It is not the 170 restaurant mega empire that spawned the new Waterbar and Roasthouse. The only thing Ubuntu is growing is its own veggies and supports local earth-friendly suppliers for other items.

                2. re: rworange

                  yes, the ubuntu chef was the chef de cuisine at manresa- this pre-known fact was with me when i made the ub. reservation and helped keep me from sky high expectations.

                  and no, i would never consider going to FrL after my many discussions with people about it.ooh that's a bad sentence but i am tired.sorry.

                  1. re: opinionatedchef

                    I'm having a bit of difficulty calibrating op-chef's tasteometer. I get not liking Manresa, Michael Mina, and Ubuntu, and not even wanting to try Coi or TFL, but what am I supposed to make of the apparently positive feelings about minibar?

                    1. re: Paul H

                      paul, i guess it might sound confusing unless you had had the minibar experience. if you haven't, i hope you will. then maybe you will understand. i know you will have a great time.

                  2. re: rworange

                    My reaction was somewhat more positive than "meh" - I liked it, and will go back, but I wasn't blown away. I was definitely hoping for more innovative flavor combinations, but I thought everything was tasty and well cooked. And I definitely think my expectations were too high - it is a little unfair to go into a meal, hoping that it'll change the way you look at food (esp when in my case, I've been veg-centric for a long time).

                  3. I was surprised by your comments on value - I was impressed by the price:portion ratio at Ubuntu. Then I noticed the mention of a $21 entree, which seemed strange because I remember the prices topping out at $16. So I pulled up the current menu. Sure enough, prices have gone up substantially over the last few months, as much as 40% in some cases. Can't really blame them for charging more when they're so popular. I may have been less enthusiastic in my review had my bill been 25% higher.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: Morton the Mousse

                      I don't know - we fed 2 adults very well - we were stuffed and 2 kids, for $75. For a good quality meal with as much variety we had - that is a steal. This is lunch though and picking the small portions for many dishes.

                      1. re: Morton the Mousse

                        Damn ... all this chat and no one put in the link.

                        1. re: Morton the Mousse

                          ok, let me try that link one more time.

                          I agree with you about the prices, Morton. Given the attention it was getting, it was part of the reason I rushed up there. Peeking at the rest of the menu most of the prices seem to have held their own. Now let's hope they don't raise the price of the tasting menu before I get there.

                          -----
                          Ubuntu Restaurant & Yoga Studio
                          1140 Main Street, Napa, CA 94558

                        2. OMG!!! thank you for your post ... i thought i was the ONLY sole person who did not like ubuntu. actually, my husband and i liked the sunchokes, but that was it!

                          i ordered ALL the dishes that CHers recommended - the signature cauliflower dish, the potatoes robuchon, and anson grits - we couldn't finish half of each dish - it was that bad. then, we ordered the pizza with kale, thinking how can pizza be bad - but it was ... bad & super-duper-salty!!! my last attempt to like ubuntu was with the dessert - the winter citrus float - can i say sweet sugared candy? i couldn't even finish half of that and i have a sweet tooth!!!

                          i have traveled throughout the world - eaten at the top restaurants in every destination ... so i consider myself a true foodie - a connoisseur of food. BUT i left ubuntu so depressed & confused - feeling like i was an anomaly - that i must be sooo screwed not to like one of the top 10 restuarants in the US. i had not read one negative comment about ubuntu UNTIL you "opionatedchef"!

                          thank you! thank you! i am not insane!!!

                          BTW - the service was really good from the minute we stepped into the restaurant. the ambience was peaceful and surreal. our waitress was excellent. the food just wasn't my cup of tea (AND i love vegetable dishes!!!)

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: abs

                            were the grits undersalted or too salty? (opinionated chef said they were undersalted)....what made them too bad to eat?

                            After reading your comment, all I know is that pizzas were too salty (most of the CH reports on the pizza haven't been that positive) and that the dessert was too sweet (it has also been indicated that the desserts weren't a highlight I believe).

                            I do know from your post that the food isn't your 'cup of tea'. But that tells me very little about whether it might be mine or not. (though not to worry, I will be going soon and look forward to judging for myself).

                            1. re: abs

                              abs, thank YOU! We all like to feel "I'm not the only one." So as of today, there are 4 or 5 of us(who have posted, that is) on the " Just Say No to Ubuntu- It's a Hoax" bus. I am a little confused by your post. The food tasted BAD? I had nothing that tasted BAD. I just had plenty that tasted BORING, unseasoned, flat, particularly the potatoes and the grits dishes. And EVERY dish, except the soup, the almonds, the sunchokes and the desserts, was SKIMPY to the point of being unethical. You know, it's funny, after 40 years of restaurant going, I find myself more incensed by THIS experience than any other in recent memory. And while I feel that I want to play "the white knight" and save other CHs the wasted money, I realize that this controversy makes some people all the more determined to try it and judge for themselves.

                              Here's a laugh: In my fantasy(a la www.freerice.com) every person who has been convinced NOT to go to Ubuntu- gives 10% of the cost of the dinner they didn't buy at U- to a world hunger organization- and in a month, we've ended hunger in a major 3rd world country.

                              p.s. my Love says i have to get on with my life; it's only a dinner. so be it. i need to finish my "annual Ca. vaca." restnt reports...

                            2. I am worse than you. Months ago I walked into Ubuntu and walked out after noting the "yoga" atmosphere, the for-vegetarian-cuisine high prices and teeny servings others had (OK the prep takes work and that costs. But giving a bit more of the vegetables doesn't cost that much.) I felt the place was selling itself on a feel-good vibe that would have been matched if it was matched by prices most vegetarians can afford. My post generated a flurry of support for Ubuntu that verged on cult-development and, I felt, putting-down of my opinion that quite put me off. Here's my post:

                              I hate to sound like the Grinch but we walked out of Ubuntu yesterday at lunch. The space was vast and open but verging on the overly-upscale-precious. I love vegetables and was vegan for a decade but when the server said, "I advise ordering two or three a person because they are tapas-size," I looked at the prices. I don't love vegetables enough to spend $9 for cauliflower or $14 for a small, not-the-best vegetarian pizza*. Not for lunch. Not if I have to pay $40-$60 for lunch for two (and potentially up with drinks and tips) that doesn't have a smidgeon of really high-price ingredients and is on bare wood tables.

                              To compare, we had dinner at Terra the night before. $95 plus tip, not including drinks. Appetizers: absolutely delicious ribolleto, a large portion we couldn't finish, and panko-crusted fried oysters on crisp pork belly squares in a balsalmic reduction. Main dishes: huge pork chop in a caper sauce with sides of Yukon gold mashed and sweet cabbage with homemade chorizo and Maine lobster tail (fairly small) and scallops (three large) over mashed potatoes in a wine and parsley sauce. All this in a Michelin-awarded restaurant with exquisite service--by our waitress, our bread replenisher and tablecloth sweeper and our water pourer, white tablecloths, excellent bread, a beautiful space, and charming and welcoming hosts. And last night we went to Zuzu for tapas. Had incredible Spanish tortilla (omelet) with potato and fennel, baked pork ribs with onions in balsalmic sauce, paella, Petrale sole. The tab? About $38. We were so grateful for those meals and the charm and graciousness of the service, we left 30% tips both nights.

                              It's a free country. Ubuntu can charge what they want. But it was over the top for me.

                              (I tried to access the site for the prices to be absolutely sure but it kept crashing my browser. I'm still at the hotel in Napa.)

                              *People jumped on this statement but I was simply responding to the OP in the thread, who actually tried the pizza.

                              24 Replies
                              1. re: lintygmom

                                You know, it is one thing to go there and try something and not like it.

                                It is a different thing to issue a strong statement based looks and pre-conceptions of what veggies are and what they should cost.

                                I thought it was a little sad because often our tastes match and I think you might like Ubuntu ... though our tastes for some joints is wildly different ... but that is usually the exception.

                                Then again it is my perception that for the most part my taste jives with the OP. I just didn't realize until too late that a Manresa-type joint was not the poster's taste. I would have strongly suggested staying away had I known.

                                I hope you do stop by sometime ... maybe go for the soup ... it was the one thing the OP liked. It is a big bowl and the price of any other soup at any other restaurant. It might intrigue you enough to try something else.

                                The patio will be open in warm weather so you could ignore the yoga studio completely ... though for me it was out of the way on the second floor and didn't call attention to itself ... although I realize that some people might consider Ubuntu as Cafe Gratitude lite ... the message doesn't grate like at Gratitude ... it is very background and subtle ... but it is still there.

                                Note I am not saying that the comments in this tread are wrong. For some people Ubuntu is just not for them. However, from what I've read of your posts, it might be something you really like.

                                1. re: rworange

                                  I know. Disappointing you was the hardest. =)

                                  1. re: lintygmom

                                    I think what disappointed rw is that you weren't willing to try it...sounds like she thinks you would have been happy if you had stayed...

                                    I was interested in the fact that you didn't refer to prices that 'most people' could afford; you referred to prices that 'most vegetarians' could (or couldn't) afford: Does that mean you expect more for your dollar if the restaurant is vegetarian; or think it is primarily a restaurant for vegetarians?

                                    1. re: susancinsf

                                      Thank you for your courteous reply. (As I thank rw for her constant level-headed kindness.) I actually asked the support team to delete my account and checked here to see if they have--not yet.

                                      What a very complicated topic. By "most vegetarians can afford" I meant the kind of committed people who have become vegetarian for ethical choice--as I did prior to completely falling off the wagon (I still refuse to eat more than a pound of meat/chicken/fish/week). A lot of those people have given up earning $$$$ to devote time to those causes. Because of that, they would have trouble affording the precious wide-open-old-growth-wood-in-Napa space and vegetarian food that is Ubuntu. But I didn't know that when I went in. I read about Ubuntu as a "restaurant and yoga studio" interested in a certain kind of ethos of sustainability, etc. I wanted to go because I believe in those things, too, though too much "Berkeley" drives me crazy (and Gratitude does). Was even willing to have a bad meal to support a new place that would cater to vegetarians and the world. What I felt when I walked in was something different: a cashing in on a certain trend of taste and ethics. The taste part doesn't bother me but the ethics does. If a chef really believes in this ethos, why not be creative AND affordable? Because you believe in sustainability and freshness if you earn enough?

                                      Perhaps I would have enjoyed the food. I'd rather feed a few people in my practice who have lost their jobs--or get them their meds for free.

                                      1. re: lintygmom

                                        But I think you're projecting your own philosophy and ethos on the restaurant and then criticizing it for not meeting them.

                                        First, I don't think they call themselves a "vegetarian" restaurant. They're a restaurant that focuses on vegetables. Sure, they're into fresh and sustainable, but so is Chez Panisse, and a lot of people who believe in their philosophy and ethos can't afford to eat there, either.

                                        This sort of reminds me of all the discussions about whether "ethnic" food (especially Chinese) should be cheap, which basically just goes back to our experience and expectations for the cuisine and doesn't have anything to do with anything intrinsic to the cuisine. I don't see why food prepared with a high level of skill, quality and creativity is required to be cheap just because it doesn't have meat.

                                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                          I don't think I am. I think the "vegetarian restaurant" (for such is a restaurant that doesn't serve meat/fish/fowl even if the chef demurs) + yoga studio swayed me. Food prepared with a high level of skill, quality and creativity doesn't have to be cheap because it doesn't have meat--if I go to FL/CP*/Manresa and have vegetables, I expect them to be $$$. But who the hell knows. Maybe I was led astray by this statement on the Website:

                                          Our philosophy reflects an appreciation for all of the people in our community who contribute daily to producing the Ubuntu experience. Ubuntu features a delicious menu of daily-harvested organic food, with a focus on farm-fresh produce, much of it from our own biodynamic gardens. Ubuntu, briefly stated, is "humanity toward others", which is the basis of this community-focused restaurant.

                                          Or maybe I'm just an ironic bitch who expects too much from people who make that kind of statement, not realizing that the "community" they refer to are those who drive Beamers.

                                          *CP's statement was to prove that local, freshly harvested, not heavily sauced "new Cali-cuisine" could be high-end--in 1972. Different message, different expectations. Here I think a chef in 2007 wanted to open a restaurant in Napa where there's already lots of fresh&local and seized on this caring yoga thing as a gimmick and then went with the touchy feely while wanting to get high prices.

                                          1. re: lintygmom

                                            You're reading the mission statement wrong. Community does not refer to the Bay Area community at large, it refers to those "who contribute daily to producing the Ubuntu experience." which means farmers and cheese makers. Basically, they're saying that they celebrate the hard work of biodynamic farmers by paying them a fair price, which is reflected in menu prices, and by showcasing the incredible quality of their products, instead of relegating them to side dish status.

                                            Like Ruth said, you're projecting your own expectations of what this restaurant should be, as well as your own beliefs about what group of people the term "community" should refer to.

                                            1. re: Morton the Mousse

                                              Folks (and this is not directed to any particular poster):

                                              A discussion of the average income of vegetarians is off topic for our boards.

                                              Thanks!

                                        2. re: lintygmom

                                          Yeah ... what susan said.

                                          I didn't see anything you wrote that should be deleted. Your last comment to me made me chuckle ... which is how I think it was meant.

                                          Anyway ... this thread made my dinner at Ubuntu tonight highly more amusing than it might otherwise be.

                                          I'm surpised that the OP thought the radish plate was in the OK category since it mainly consisted of maybe a dozen at most paper-thin slices of radish with a little cheese in the middle. This definatley wasn't a plate that would even be considered a small salad at Claim Jumper ... size wise.

                                          On my first visit I bypassed the cauliflower in an 'iron pot' because I thought it would be too much .... well the 'pot' was about the size of a small cottage cheese container ... though I found it incredibly rich so not something I could eat a larger portion.

                                          So every time I saw something that might be considered a micro portion in made me think of you folks and gave me a little inner smile.

                                          That being said, at the end of the tasting menu we were both stuffed. It is sort of like dim sum where you have a lot of little plates and wind up being incredibly full at the end of the meal ... at least for the two of us.

                                          Someone in some thread said that they thought that by ordering the vegetarian version of tasting menus at places like COI the experience would be the same. So I scrolled through the COI menu and I strongly don't think so but I might take myself over to COI finally to test that out.

                                          The point is that the tasting menu at COI is $120 ... whatever option you choose ... meat or veggie. The tasting menu at Ubuntu is $49.

                                          Tasting menu though is really a misnomer at Ubuntu. It is really a prix fixe. The portions are much larger ... yes they are ... than most tasting menus I've tried.

                                          Though I don't have much to say that hasn't already been said ... I'll go hook up the rest of the details on one of the positive Ubuntu threads since ain't anything I say on this thread is going to convince anyone otherwise. I'll drop my three negatives here keeping in the spirirt ...

                                          - skip the soy milk with agave if soy milk isn't your thing. It was fine and not awful like most soy milk I've tried ... but it didn't taste like much.

                                          - they really need a different bread. I like Acme but at this point I'm starting to find it a bore at restaurants ... even Chez Panisse

                                          - the wine matching for the tasting menu wasn't available. This was a HUGE disappointment to me and frankly a little inexcusable on a Friday night at prime time. They did offer to put something together for me ... but I was more interested in a pre thought out selection.

                                          I still like Ubuntu a lot after this second visit. Tonight did confirm what I suspected on the first visit ... this is going to be a Chez Panisse type of restaurant ... in that there are going to be those dishes that are amazingly brilliant and unforgettable ... with others that are good or very good. Occasionally some will fail to please my particular taste.

                                          I'm finding the unique experience at Ubuntu is the opposite of most restaurants ... the more they play with the food the better it is ... there was this carrot crumble that sounded complex to make but the dish with it was one of the standouts for me tonight.

                                          I think the produce dishes are the better and more stellar. That first deconstructed parfait where there were all sorts of fruits and flavors and textures was better than the chocolate souffle with the rosemary ice cream. The latter was tasty. However the complex parfait was just amazing and memorable.

                                          The service was just as good as on my first visit and at one point even kind.

                                          As we left we saw a couple trying to decide between Ubuntu and Cole's Chop House next door ... heh.

                                          We talked them into Ubuntu ... at least appetizers and a glass of wine. I was starting to feel like one of those restaurant barkers outside of North Beach restaurants urging people to go in.

                                          I could tell when the hubby heard veggie/vegan he was thinking ... steak ... and they were both about to bolt. So my friend and I described the charms of Ubuntu and talked them into at least getting an appetizer before the steak next door ... we told them what we thought the stand-outs on tonight's menu would be ... to maximize their dining pleasure.

                                          Keeping this thread in mind I did ask about what they thought about small plates. They were cool with that and they liked some similar restaurants in this style.

                                          Then ... keeping this thread in mind ... just in case they might not be the types where Ubuntu would match their tastes ... we leaped in the car and hit the gas leaving a trail of dust in our wake ... though talking to them I think they will like it ... but if not ... we skedaddled.

                                          1. re: rworange

                                            The tasting menu is now $84 - quite a change in a few months from $48!

                                            That said, 3 of us (light appetites) ate VERY well for a total of $102 (including a $25 bottle of wine). We shared:

                                            almonds - wouldn't have ordered them except for recommendations here - SO glad we did

                                            fried chickpeas - unbelievably light and the romenescu had 2 types of nuts (had to ask) - a really wonderful taste even on its own

                                            carta da musica with truffled pecorino - the other signature dish -it was fine, but wouldn't order again because too much cheese for me (generous but out of balance) and I preferred other dishes more

                                            3 type of farro with fried couregettes - good but wouldn't order again. A very large portion in a bowl (easily could be a meal by itself), no taste except (overly) greasy batter (fresh) on the small ?flowers which I couldn't see or taste, very mild flavors and no WOW factor, but interesting textural differences. Wouldn't order again because other dishes were SO exceptional.

                                            grilled peach and green bean with burratta - wonderful texture and flavor contrasts. Amazing how they grilled the peach without it being mushy and adding a complex smokey flavor

                                            Beets with ?nectarine juice - sweet, colorful, flavorful

                                            cauliflower - can't add much to what has been said except WOW. The roasted portion was a bit salty by itself so best to make sure you get all layers together I think rather than sampling them separately.

                                            Forget the dessert description - we were so full only got one - chocolate with cherries - my sister the chocoholic was in heaven (the taste I had was great)

                                            General comments - the presentation is beautiful, service was attentive and friendly. Questions about preparation or ingredients were answered with knowledge and an apparent appreciation of the interest.

                                            Met the chef as he was working and had a brief very friendly conversation. He seems like a really nice guy and MAN is he talented.

                                            IMHO it is definitely worth the money for the quality and creativeness of the preparation. I just wish it was closer to my house b/c then I'd be able to eat here more often.

                                    2. re: rworange

                                      I wouldn't call Ubuntu, Cafe Gratitude light. I have to say that the attitude at Cafe Gratitude didn't annoy me, but it is definitely "being raw vegan is the best thing you could be." Ubuntu just felt more like "we don't serve meat" I actually was not too excited by Cafe Gratitude. Some things I really liked, but 50% was meh - just not my thing. I really liked Ubuntu, and while not everything was amazing, and some things were heavy on salt, others undersalted, overall I agree that it is a decent value. I do believe the prep to make veggies taste like they do is much harder.

                                      1. re: jsaimd

                                        I meant more in attitude than in food. Rats ... just threw out my notes from my first visit because I was afraid that the place would sound like a caricature ... those crazy left-coasters type of thing.

                                        But where Gratitude has all the stupid menu names ... "I am pscho-crazy happy" and blare their message of happiness and contenment at customers until ... at least for me ... I just want to slap them and tell them to shut up ... it is understated at Ubuntu ... there's a small sign on the corner of the bar about customers and servers being in a mutual relationship that benefits both ... The murals have a few words incorporated into them that are not easy to notice if you don't look closely. Some servers have a few words on the back of their shirts.

                                        The food itself isn't comparable between the two. For Gratitude either you need to be into that whole raw vegan thing for the most part. I find their food pretty 'meh' myself.

                                        1. re: rworange

                                          cafe gratitude:hippy::ubuntu:bobo

                                    3. re: lintygmom

                                      Ingredients only reflect one of many costs in running a restaurant. The main cost is labor. The cuisine at Ubuntu is incredibly technique-intensive. The sauces, stocks, reductions, spice blends, in-house fermentations, etc require day-long preparations. This ain't veggie stir fry - the food is more labor intensive than short ribs or chicken soup (which are mostly inactive labor, anyhow).

                                      Jeremy Fox is one of the Bay Area's best chefs, and he deserves a competitive salary, even if he doesn't cook meat. Plus, you've gotta pay all the other chefs in the kitchen, the servers, the bussers, the dishwashers, etc, etc. These people deserve the same wages as in any other high-end restaurant. Then you've got rent, the cost of building a new restaurant, insurance, workers comp, electricity, the list goes on and on. None of these costs are impacted by the fact that Ubuntu doesn't serve meat.

                                      There's no reason why Ubuntu's prices should be significantly lower than any place of comparable quality that serves meat. Ingredients reflect about 25% of the price of a dish. The use of meat would have raised ingredient costs by about 50%. Thus, we're talking about a total price difference of 10-15%, or $1-$2 per dish.

                                      Now, had you tried the food and disliked it, you could claim that the food was not a good value based on your taste preferences. But you didn't, and that's why your post was attacked. Notice how opinionatedchef wrote a scathing critique of the food. She expected to be attacked, but instead people wrote in saying of course you're entitled to your opinion and hey, it wasn't to your taste, that's cool. Criticizing a restaurant that wasn't to your taste is always welcome as a counterpoint. But criticizing a restaurant without eating a single bite of the food just opens your post up to criticism.

                                      PSB does have a valid point concerning marginal labor costs and portion sizes; which is to say, they probably could increase portions without a significant increase in prices. But if you ask me, the portion sizes were perfect. I got to try a wide variety of dishes without becoming overfull, which is how I like to eat. Fox clearly sticks to the Thomas Keller mantra - each dish should leave you wanting just one more bite. If I want bick portions for cheap, I'll go eat at Taylor's Refresher.

                                      I spent $100 on dinner for two at Ubuntu. It was one of the best meals I've had this year. I was shocked by how reasonable the bill was, and I was fully satiated for the rest of the evening.

                                      1. re: Morton the Mousse

                                        "The sauces, stocks, reductions, spice blends, in-house fermentations, etc require day-long preparations. This ain't veggie stir fry - the food is more labor intensive than short ribs or chicken soup (which are mostly inactive labor, anyhow)."

                                        Doesn't "inactive labor" also apply to "sauces, stocks, reductions, spice blends, in-house fermentations, etc" as well? Maybe you're saying they have a huge gas bill from all that stuff bubbling on the stove all day.

                                        1. re: Xiao Yang

                                          Ha! I'll miss your wit. Wait, I can still read it!

                                          1. re: Xiao Yang

                                            Sure, sauces and stocks are inactive labor. But Ubuntu's cuisine demands more than that. For example, there's a lot of really precise and time-intensive knife work required to create the unique vegetable textures, they puree vegetables by fork instead of food processor, they grind whole spices with a mortar and pestle, etc. One of my strongest reactions to the food was that so much work went into coaxing such a unique range of flavors and textures from the ingredients. This isn't the sort of food you could throw together in thirty minutes after a day at work.

                                            1. re: Morton the Mousse

                                              I ground my spices in a mortar and pestle--even after 12 hours at work. Marble. I doen't think pureeing by Cuisinart is much different than by fork and sieve.

                                              I think you COULD, given the made ahead reductions and stocks, make the dishes in 30 mins, for that is how long vegetables take to cook (max). Work in their kitchen awhile and see.

                                              1. re: lintygmom

                                                Obviously it doesn't take twelve hours to finish the dish, if that was the case no one would ever get served. My point is that total prep time is substantial, and the food is very labor intensive, which is reflected in the price. There's not disputing this fact.

                                                1. re: Morton the Mousse

                                                  I dispute that it is any more labor-intensive than many restaurants that, for the same money, serve meat/shellfish/etc.

                                                  1. re: lintygmom

                                                    Then name some restaurants that are using comparably refined techniques and charging $15 for an entree. The places that come to mind - Manresa, Coi, French Laundry - are all in a much higher price range than Ubuntu. That's why Bauer called it 4 star food at 2 star prices.

                                        2. re: lintygmom

                                          Folks, this discussion is getting off topic into the territory of what people should and shouldn't post on the site. We try to keep the regional boards focused on discussing chow, rather than discussing the discussion of chow.

                                          If you insist on having that kind of meta-debate about the discussion on the site, please start a thread on Site Talk rather than disrupting the conversation here.

                                          Thank you.

                                          1. re: lintygmom

                                            Looking at the current dinner menu and reading reports on the food, $12 seems to me relatively cheap for an elaborate casserole made by combining three different preparations of cauliflower. Millennium or Greens would probably charge $20 for a dish like that.

                                            And $49 for the six-course prix-fixe is really downright cheap compared with vegetarian tasting menus at say Coi or Manresa, as is $29 for the wine pairing.

                                          2. I'm glad to hear someone speaking out against this place. I went here with a vegetarian and a person who doesn't eat beef or pork so I got to be around some people who were used to this type of cuisine and we walked out completely unsatisfied. Not saying that the food wasn't good, for the most part it was average with one high spot and one low spot (the pizza was pretty close to horrible) but even though we all shared 2 starters and each got two courses ourselves, I had a grumbling stomache about 1/3 of an hour later. I kept saying that a little bit of braised short ribs or a lamb chop would go great with everything (of course in jest) but my vegeterian and pseudo vegetarian friends agreed witht the fact that something was missing from everything. I was dissapointed and will never return, there is much better food to be had in the valley for both me and the vegetarians around here.

                                            1. I ate there for the first time last night. As a local, who shops Target, Raley's and Wilson's Feed Store along with our farmers market and a rare dip into fine dining but mostly lives for the taco trucks, I was expecting the worse. I hate the Yoga connection and I used to like the furniture store that was in the space. I love Cole's but normally feel like I can't afford it. I wasn't looking to Ubuntu with an open mind. Well, it's great. If you didn't like it, I think it's a matter of subjective taste, not a poorly conceived restaurant. I don't "get" Don Giovanni and at some point have to think it's me because they're so popular.
                                              Almost all the dishes were wild and new and delicious. The constant was that the flavors came in waves. The first bite tastes like one thing and as it lingered, it would become something else.
                                              I thought it was just great. Expensive, but I'd go again.
                                              Service was a real joke however. They need to address that ASAP.
                                              If you're curious, I'd say go.

                                              3 Replies
                                              1. re: Earl Grey

                                                What did you have, Earl? Have they finally moved into summer?

                                                My big gripe is they don't keep the online menu updated, enough that I emailed them about it ... which had zilch response. I know it depends on what is fresh, but I'm not seeing the big summer bounty on the menu yet ... or at least the online version.

                                                1. re: rworange

                                                  I'm bad at this kind of thing and tend to live in the moment and then forget, which is bad for these boards, but the starters were the almonds, olives in a pea-basil sauce, I think. The olives were too strong for the sauce to make much of a difference but they were good olives anyway. The chick pea fries, the music thingy, which is just flatbread with a chick pea puree and bitter greens. It was fine but I don't get the fuss for that one. Plus our waiter kept referring to chichis (which are bosoms) instead of ceci, which are garbanzos. The cauliflower was better than good. The watermelon, lemongrass and coconut soup was the moment I decided I was in love with the place. the entrees were fake grits from rice, a farro dish and a potato dish. I'm sorry i'm so bad at details. it was early summer. Still lots of peas, some basil but no tomatoes, that I remember. All were great and very complicated.
                                                  I should add I went with the ultimate meat eater who would never have chosen Ubuntu and would much prefer a big juicy chop from Coles and she was thrilled and satisfied.
                                                  We ordered almost everything (no dessert, though) and it was about $70 each with one one bottle plus one glass of wine. I wish we hadn't tipped 15%.

                                                  1. re: Earl Grey

                                                    Thanks, You know, that watermelon soup is on the online menu. It confirms my strategy at Ubuntu to order the least appealing thing on the menu. It seems when I order things there that I'd never ordinarily order, that's when it soars. .

                                                    Looked a that soup and thought ... ick ... wait, I'll bet it is great and I should order it.