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Apr 25, 2008 08:15 AM

Wine Country: Ubuntu or Bistro Don Giovanni for dinner?

We have one more open night to fill for our trip in May and are trying to decide between these 2 spots. We're foodies who love Italian, but who also live in NYC where we can get a lot of it. Then again, there are great vegetarian spots here too (we're not vegetarians though). Thoughts?

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  1. Bistro Don Giovanni by far! Ubuntu is great, and the food is wonderfully prepared and creative, but portions tend to be very small, and unless you plan to order large quantities of food to share, you have a good chance of leaving hungry. Don Giovanni's is one of those places in the Valley that you can always count on for an incredible meal. The food is fantastic, and regularly receives great reviews. Michael Bauer, food critic for the SF Chronicle regularly includes Don Giovanni's in his yearly top 100 list: This has been a local's favorite place for years, and it remains one of my favorite spots to recommend to tourists as well, as I know they will not be disappointed. For more info you can visit their website:

    1 Reply
    1. re: Michelle Grinnell

      I keep reading about these tiny portions & leaving hungry & I just don't get it. On our last visit my wife & I spent about $70 (no wine) & left stuffed. I am a big eater, but not a vegetarian. There was plenty of food. And it was superb!

    2. Ubuntu. BDG serves perfectly decent, fairly uninspired Italian food. I wouldn't even place it within the Bay Area's top five Italian restaurants. Coming from NY, I don't think you will be impressed by BDG. Ubuntu, OTOH, is a completely unique restaurant experience. The food is outstanding, and unlike anything you will have anywhere else. Also, coming from NY, I don't think you'll be at all put off by the price point at Ubuntu (dinner for two will set you back $80-$100, more if you like to drink expensive wine).

      1. IMHO, it is a no-brainer in favor of Ubuntu. The cooking is outstanding, the design is beautiful and the restaurant has a very unique, Northern California feel. The plates are small, but not tiny. I found that for 2 women: almonds, olives plus 4 plates and a dessert leaves us feeling very satisfied. And I am not a vegetarian... Now I want to go again, soon! (The wine list is competitively priced and interesting.)

        1 Reply
        1. re: Madge

          Second the no-brainer sentiment. You can great over-the-top Italian all over the place. You can't get what Ubuntu is doing anywhere else.

        2. I have had VERY bad service at both restaurants!!!!!!!!! I am a chef in the valley and have also lived in NYC and feel that you would NOT be impressed by either places. I would suggest Celedon(Fusion/Californian) or Angele(French) in the Hat building. If you had to choose either restaurant choose Don Giovanni. Ubuntu is just a fancy yoga studio with vegetarian fare. If you want more recommendations let me know!

          4 Replies
          1. re: chezmargie

            Wow - I lived and professionally reviewed restaurants in the valley for several years and had nothing but bad experiences at Angele and Celadon and those two are the LAST restaurants I would recommend for Napa Valley (along with Cindy's Backstreet and Mustards).

            1. re: Carrie 218

              Trying to get a handle on your tastes. Are you saying that Cindy's is among the last restaurants you would recommend? This is surprising, to me, in light of the recent comments by Maria Lorraine and opinionated chef.

              1. re: wolfe

                For me, yes. I have eaten three or four times and had mediocre service, food that was cold in the middle, muddled flavors, and poorly-conceived combinations. My Napa Valley favorites (in relative order and lamenting the closing of Pilar and admitting I haven't eaten at Meadowood since the chef change or Ad Hoc) are:

                French Laundry
                Bistro Jeanty
                Martini House
                Bistro Don Giovanni
                Bounty Hunter
                Zins Valley
                Boon Fly
                Go Fish

                Places I don't bother with anymore (not in order):
                Julia's Kitchen
                Tra Vigne

                1. re: Carrie 218

                  Bistro Don Giovanni and Ubuntu are not in the same class by any means. Ubuntu is far better. More unique and creative food, while Giovanni and the same old stuff that you can find anywhere. Ubuntu serves the freshest and cleanest tasting vegetables you will ever taste. I do not suggest getting the tasting menu since this will be your first trip. Try a bunch of things and i guarantee you that you will leave satisfied. Everything is delicious. . .everything!

          2. I haven't been to either, but one thing that sets Ubuntu apart among vegetarian restaurants is that the chef is not a vegetarian.

            9 Replies
              1. re: wolfe

                I think it is in that I hate health food but I actually eat very well. I don't like "vegetarian cooking" but I often don't eat meat. I think it's a mindset. Maybe it's folly. I doubt it.

                1. re: wolfe

                  Learning that made me more curious to try the place. I think somebody who loves and cooks with meat might be more aware of how a dish could be improved by some stock, bacon, or whatever, and look for creative ways to achieve similar effects.

                  Jeremy Fox did a stage with Fergus Henderson, and at Manresa he made the charcuterie and was in charge of the pig dinners.

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    How does meat stock or a bacon-like flavor make a vegetable dish better to a vegetarian or a vegan? It probably works for omnivores. My daughter, the vegan, eschews fake meats.

                    1. re: wolfe

                      I'm interested in how the food tastes to me!

                      I figure a chef who loves meat will be more aware of how, for example, stock would add umami, depth, and complexity to a dish, and look for vegetarian alternatives to get a similar effect.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        So a vegetable can only have umami, depth or complexity if it has meat essence?

                        1. re: wolfe

                          Where do you get that? He specifically said "and look for vegetarian alternatives to get a similar effect."

                          1. re: JasmineG

                            I realize that but I interpret that to mean that he wants the UDC of what is meat reproduced by vegetable sources. Why? Cannot the vegetables have vegetable UDC without imitating meatiness. Does it take someone who eats meat to know that a roasted vegetable stock can make a improvement in the depth of flavor of a dish?

                            1. re: wolfe

                              I think he's referring to the fact that most vegetarian cooking is bland and one-dimensional. Ubuntu delivers the depth of flavor and umami that I normally associate with cooking that incorporates meat stock and/or cured pork.