Thursday, February 19, 2009

A Vegetarian in Napa - Ubuntu

Ubuntu Restaurant and Yoga Studio
1140 Main St
Napa, CA 94559
(707) 251-5656
If you are visiting the Napa valley wine country, then Ubuntu is a must-visit whether you are a die-hard vegetarian, a conscious eater, a serious epicure, or just someone who loves good food. It is also extremely popular, so make sure you plan in advance and make reservations. February is low-season for the wineries, even so, we had to make our reservations almost 3 weeks in advance.

As soon as we made plans to go to Napa, V had his heart set on going to Ubuntu and wouldn't stop talking about it. I was totally intrigued by the name - Yoga studio & restaurant?! Isn't that totally hippie? Still Ubuntu does not claim to be a raw food mecca or an ayurvedic prescription diet place, it simply claims to serve healthy food made from locally grown vegetables. In fact most of the vegetables and herbs are grown in their own gardens. Chef Jeremy Fox calls it a vegetable restaurant rather than a vegetarian restaurant. He and his wife Deanie Fox, who is the pastry chef at Ubuntu, have finally figured out a way to make vegetarian dining upscale and interesting.
Ubuntu is located in downtown Napa on Main street and there is a parking lot right across the street. However, V and I walked from our B&B despite the rain, perhaps to salute Ubuntu's commitment to reduce their carbon footprint. (You can read about their efforts in that area on their website, it is rather amazing.)

The restaurant is a huge high-ceilinged place with wooden floors and a bar on one side. There is a long wooden table down the middle of the hall, for community dining. The bar side also displayed three life-size stone sculptures of nudes, rather intriguing. The yoga studio I beleive is upstairs. The kitchen is open (or maybe partially so), and we saw Chef Jeremy Fox standing at the counter outside the kitchen putting his finishing touches to all the dishes going to the tables.

At the end of the meal, V walked over to chat with Jeremy Fox. I was skeptical because it was an extremely busy time, but V was gone for a good 10 minutes and from the table it seemed like they were chatting away like old friends. (V has to write about what they talked about). V also managed to click a picture (above).

We were offered an intimate 2-person table. The menu varies depending on the season (also I guess the chef's mood) and it is tapa-style. Our waiter recommended that we order about 5 to 6 dishes and share. In that sense, Ubuntu would be great to visit with a large group of friends. (V found in his recent reading that hanging out with friends at meals eating and talking is a key contributor to happiness.)

We ordered the following (pictures below in same order)

chickpea fries with HERBS romesco sauce

warm sunchoke carpaccio (coated with black trumpets, shaved FLORENCE FENNEL, "bordelaise")

rustic rancho gordo 'yellow eye' bean stew (torn bread, ROSEMARY, chili & braised SPIGARELLO)

local yellow corn grits, smoked with hickory (fried brussel sprouts with parsley & lemon, APPLE bbq, RED SORREL)

cauliflower in a cast iron pot (roast-puree-raw-"couscous", our vadouvan, CORIANDER toast)

All were delicious and served beautifully in unique serving dishes which enhanced their exoticity. I am not sure I can even pick favorites among the above, but sunchoke carpaccio was definitely unique and bold. V loved the corn grits. (Only one item that we ordered was not to our liking, the sauerkraut and emmental pizza which our waiter was nice enough to take back immediately).

We ended this superlative meal with a delicate dessert - meyer lemon and white chocolate parfait. It looked so pretty on the plate that we almost didn't want to touch it.

The check came to $80 with tax and tip. Next time, we will plan to visit with friends so that we can share more items.

Update from V:

This restaurant proves that there is serious money to be made in high-end vegetarian cuisine. Cyrus and Tom Keller's French Laundry have both started full vegetarian courses. But, Jeremy a native San Jose son, shows that his finer touches to "vegetable" food have not been unnoticed by the illuminati of the food world. The presentation really wins the gold medal for this place, the ambiance, service and taste make a gallant attempt in securing other medals.

As V mentioned I decided to meet the great Jeremy Fox. He is really very easy to approach and to converse with. The kind of guy we hope to see as a judge in Top Chef (Hint hint, Top Chef Producers). We spoke about his background, his passions and above all how well the restaurant is doing. The quick answer is very well. It made my day when Jeremy said he will go out and visit our blog site, and we were especially thrilled when he said the name of our blog was really "cool".

We have started saving our nickels and dimes to make sure we can do our next Ubuntu run sooner than later. Over and out, outstanding scrambled eggs are calling my name, as prepared exquisitely by my own Top Chef.

1 comment:

ChuckEats said...

There are many high-end restaurants that are putting an emphasis on veggies. Many may not have complete veggie tasting menus but they have enough dishes to compose a rewarding dinner:
- Manresa, Los Gatos - they have really focused on their garden
- L'Arpege, Paris - the king of veggies, he has two of his own gardens
- Mirazur, Menton, FR - a rising star in france who puts an emphasis on vegetables
- Coi, San Francisco - they seem to be focusing more & more on the vegetable/ingredient side

And, yes, The French Laundry veggie tasting menu is probably better than the meat menu during spring, summer, and fall.