Ubuntu 2009 Late Summer Report
I repeatedly said that for me, going to Ubuntu is like going to church; my spirit is awakened, wounds in the soul are healed, and exaltation is experienced. I went in yesterday on the tail end of a very bad day and left with a sense of spiritual renewal. It is quite frankly, my favorite restaurant in the world and with the exception of one course (the carta de musica), every single dish that was served was brand new to me so my sense of wonder at the artistry coming from Jeremy and Deannie Fox continues to appreciate. As usual, I called ahead to pre-order a tasting menu (not yet available on a day-to-day basis, I understand, but something planned for the future). So what was served may not be on the standard menu... My biggest regret is that my new camera dysfunctioned by the fourth course. Hopefully the guest I was dining with will give me a link to his photos since I have so few. When we arrived, I ordered a bottle 2007 Seps Estate Napa Valley Viognier for the first part of the meal. For the latter part, I brought with us a bottle of 1978 Château Beychevelle, Saint Julien. The Viognier proved a perfect pairing for the "cold" dishes and by the time our hot dishes arrived, the age and softness of the Beychevelle worked excellently as well.
1. Cool 'Athena' MELON and LEMONGRAS purée with whipped coconut milk, 'diva' CUCUMBER, basil seed "caviar." A year ago I had the slice of melon which had been brûléed in a different, watermelon-based soup. Now it was paired with a creamier coconut milk soup but heightened with the basil seed caviar and cool, crisp cucumber. A beautiful start.
Immediately after our soup, our utensils were whisked away and we were told the next few courses were to be dined upon with our fingers.
2. Crunchy RADISHES, crème fraîche with nori, mustard-banyuls, HONG VIT, and black salt. Served on a hunk of sheet rock, the radishes were laid out atop the layer of decadently-scented crème fraîche. We had great fun scooping up the dressing with the radishes and when the vegetables were gone, scooping up the dressing with chunks of bread.
3. PADRONS with flowering 'banana' MINT, chickpeas in Napa Smith ale, sauce romesco, smoked maldon. This was a two-part dish; sweet fried peppers were topped with fritters of clustered, fried chickpeas. Served alongside was the Romesco sauce. I'm not sure which were enjoyed more, the pure essence of the padron peppers or the batter-encasing chickpeas.
4. Carta de Musica with virtually the entire SUMMER GARDEN, barely dressed with 'round pond' olive oil, lemon and sea salt, truffled pecorino. Eating this without utensils was a new experience; more visceral and personal. Instead of the usual long, silvers of Pecorino cheese, now the slivers were rolled up into rounds and it made it easier to scoop up the bounty of fresh vegetables.
5. A simple slice of 'gem' avocado, 'cape' GOOSEBERRY, local sea salt, cast-iron bread. A whole version of this avocado was served so that we could see just how monstrously huge it was and our charming waitress delivered it as "Av-foie-cado" has it has the highest fat content of any other type of avocado. Simply served, we were given large slices served next to a simple Cape Gooseberry and preserves. We would take a chunk of the avocado and spread it on the warm, salty flat bread which was served in a warm, cast-iron skillet (yes, at this point we were given our utensils back!). I was reminded of an anecdote where someone was served a simple peach as a dessert at Chez Panisse and now understand how the brilliant fresh taste of a single ingredient can be so impressive.
6. 'Forono' BEETS baked in a ROSE GERANIUM salt crust, 'alpine' STRAWBERRY, pistachio with soy milk, AMARANTH. Before this dish was served, the waitress brought out a Le Creuset cast iron skillet to show us the decorative smiley face that had been designed in the salt crust. When plated, we were each presented with quenelles of roasted beets, plated with the unctuous sauce and contrasted delightfully with the small, powerful strawberries.
7. 'Oxheart' CARROT mille feulle, NASTURTIUM panade, purée of peach and 'noyau', peppery NASTURTIUMS, 'delfino' CILANTRO. The 'noyau' was their version of a spicy mayonnaise. So much creamy goodness in this beautiful dish colored all with orange -- from the carrots to the peaches. So rich, the nasturtium panade was an amazing complement to the richness of the carrots and peaches.
8. Chowder of barely formed BEANS & SUNFLOWER hearts, 'luscious' CORN, barigoule, TARRAGON, future sunflower seeds. I was getting full but this dish simply blew me away. A plate of of the beans and sunflower hearts was presented and the sauce was ladled tableside from yet another Le Creuset pot.
9. A 'sunburst' SQUASH, named "Merrick" by Chef Jeremy, with young COURGETTES scented with our vadouvan, BASIL. It was over this dish that the four of us dining bonded. Our server brought "Merrick" out to introduce us before he was prepared. Named after the Elephant Man, John Merrick, he was a mis-shapen squash of incomparable beauty and guile. Being one who names her creations, I had an affinity to Merrick and all that he stood for; Jeremy's garden, the transmutation of the basic into the extraordinary, and the personalization of the intimacy of the ingredients. Once served, Merrick was plated alongside some miniature versions of himself, smaller courgettes and paper-thin slices of the squash, fried and served alongside the steak-like portion of Merrick. The vadouvan was the perfect choice to supplement the sweetness of Merrick with the well-integrated aspects of basil that did not over power.
10. Freshly-dug POTATOES, roasted then crushed, SHISO salt, garlic butter with lemon and miso, FICOIDE GLACIALE, smoked NETTLE. This was yet another dish that was shown to us before it was plated and served; three roasted potatoes, a Peruvian purple, a French fingerling, and a Rose (Klondike?) potato. Showed whole, they were trussed up with herbs but once served, were chunked alongside the ice plant and smoked nettle. Served as a dipping sauce was the miso butter. I had to fight the temptation to just dump the dipping sauce all over the potatos, but it was great to taste the flavors of the potato [i]au natural[/i]. I was getting full but these were so hard not to eat.
11. "French Onion Soup," heirloom ALLIUMS, Deannie's brioche, LEEK ash, "midnight moon." I was fairly convinced at this point that I was going to burst, but the serving of miniature Staub pots with the aroma of the melted Midnight Moon cheese drew me in. Small roasted onion were hidden under generous slices of Deannie's brioche which were topped with the melted cheese. There was only a hint of broth as the true joy of a French Onion Soup [i]is[/i] the cheesy crouton after all. They essentially did away with the complication of cutting through cheese toast that is on top of a bowl of soup by doing away with most of the soup and leaving all the rich oniony, cheesy goodness.
I have to emphasize the progression of dishes, from cool and light to hearty and satisfying was brilliant. At the beginning, one of my guests expressed concern about the small servings; he was worried that he would still be hungry, eating nothing but small plates of light vegetable dishes. By the time we were in the middle of the chowder, his fears were assuaged and I had to caution him that we still had a way to go.
12. STRAWBERRY-hibiscus popsicles with 'chocolate' MINT. Served in a small shot glass, this was more of a clean, inviting palate cleanser. A juice with a bit of spritzer and yoghurt with the juice, small bites of tapioca were gems of strawberry flavor nestled on the bottom of the glass.
13. Stuffed SQUASH BLOSSOM fritters, stuffed with 'santa rosa' plum jam, NASTURTIUM ice cream, HONEYCOMB. The Fried Dough Ho in me was more than thrilled with this offering. The squash blossom was stuffed with jam, fried, and served on top of the ice cream. It was easier to go back to our earlier utensil-less fashion by scooping up the ice cream with the squash blossom and eating with with our hands.
14. Chocolate and BLACKBERRY soufflé with chocolate brittle and NASTURTIUM ice cream. Our server was downright giddy with the surprise ending as this was apparently a last-minute change to what had been planned for dessert. Perfect soufflés which were not too sweet were studded with fresh blackberries. I think the strength of this otherwise simple dessert was the fact that they were not overly sweet and the bites of fresh fruit were unexpected bites of richness. They were served with more of the nasturtium ice cream, a scatter of more berries, and sheets of chocolate brittle. But for me, it was all about the soufflé.
A few pics on the blog.
Ubuntu Restaurant & Yoga Studio
1140 Main Street, Napa, CA 94558
Sadly my visit wasn't as satisfying as yours :(
On the regular menu were chickpea fritters with romanesco (I would have loved to have padron peppers with this as the dish was boringly one dimensional)- the sauce was great, but the chickpea batter was overwhelming, overcooked and I couldn't really taste the chickpeas due to the batter. Nearly erased my memory of the etheral and well seasoned chickpea fries I had been dreaming about.
I also had gnochetti which were described as in a mushroom sauce (which was wonderful) and a black truffle fondue. Well if there were any black truffles I couldn't tell or smell them so I asked the waitress - she said the sauce was made from the truffled pecorino - had I know this I wouldn't have ordered it as even in the fresh cheese the truffles are overwhelmed and cooked they disappeared. The cheese sauce was way too heavy and I wish I had just left it off (which I could have done if I had known as it was poured over the dish at the table).
the soup you mentioned was on the menu (but I saw people not finishing it), but I don't recall seeing any of the others.
Very disappointing that there were almost no dishes with just fresh produce (not vinegared or otherwise flavored) given that it is the height of the summer.
The service was spotty - asked if I wanted bread I had to ask for it before the romensco sauce was gone. Second dish served before I had finished the first (for which I had waited a long time and suspect it sat out since it wasn't hot). Never asked if I would like more bread (served 3 tiny pieces) even tho the table next to me was asked.
No sign of chef Jeremy - so I don't know if that is relevant, but I'm now cured of any need to drive 4 hours to visit this restaurant!