Thursday, September 10, 2009

A Vegetarian in Napa - Ubuntu [2]

Avid followers of our blog (hello amma!) will recall that V and I had a wonderful trip to Napa in February, the highlight of which was dinner at Ubuntu. Since then, we have been plotting our return, and a couple of weekends back after dropping a visiting friend at the Oakland airport, we continued on to Napa for lunch at Ubuntu.

It was searingly hot in the valley (over 100F, I am sure). We parked the car across from Ubuntu in the scant shade of a sapling tree and ducked in to the cool interior of the restaurant. V enquired whether Chef Jeremy was around but unfortunately for us, he was not in that morning.

Even on such a hot day, the restaurant was pretty full. We got a comfortable 2-person table near the window with a view of the sidewalk. They have some seating outside by the creek at the back of the restaurant, but on a day like this it is for those few who like their food and themselves to be slowly roasted by the sun.

The menu was completely different from what we had in February since Chef Jeremy Fox likes to cook with seasonal ingredients, most of which come from their own farms. Here are a few snapshots of the menu.

We had quite a tough time deciding what to order but our waitress was quite helpful and rather poetic in her description of the items. As I had mentioned in the previous blog post, Ubuntu serves small tapa-style items meant to be shared. Going in a large group is nice, since more items can be sampled. However since it was just V and me, we decided to order one appetizer item, and 3 main course items. We were going to save some space for dessert too!

I paired my meal with an "Anchor Steam" beer and V paired his with freshly squeezed lemonade. Here's what we had.

1. chickpea clusters crisped in napa smith ale, ROSEMARY, romesco $7

2. cool "crimson sweet" MELON & LEMONGRASS "chowder"
'mexican sour' GHERKIN "whipped" coconut milk, basil seed "caviar" $11

3. crispy garden fritters with the "nasty bits", horseradish crema
BEETBERRY... aka "strawberry spinach", AMARANTH, trail mix $12.50

4. "southern breakfast": a soft farm egg and smoked trumpet "bacon"
organic grits from arbuckle, green TOMATO jam blis bourbon maple $16

Pictures are in the same order order below. Whatever is in caps in the menu are grown on their own farms.

Of the four items, the one that truly took it to new heights was the MELON and LEMONGRASS "chowder". Not only was the presentation beautiful but it really hit us with a pow!! when we took the first taste. After that, we took each spoonful carefully, licking and savoring and never wanting it to end.

The chickpea clusters were presented on a rustic plate and reminded us very strongly of the savory "bakshanam" made for special occassions in southern India. It has the same taste and smell.

The horseradish crema made the garden fritters more interesting than it would have been otherwise.

And lastly, the southern breakfast was my least favorite, though V seemed to enjoy every bite of it. The warm grits were served with a soft egg inside, some grated parmesan cheese on top and roasted trumpet mushroom. I loved the mushroom part, but did not like the grits part since I don't like partially cooked egg very much.

After such as scrumptious meal, we could nevertheless not resist looking at the dessert menu. Usually I dislike cheesecake but somehow the description of the "cheesecake in a jar" was so intriguing (esp. the blueberry part) that I had to try it. V on the other hand chose the carrot cupcakes, which I thought was a rather pedestrian selection, atleast until I tasted it!

vanilla bean "cheesecake" in a jar
chamomile-scented blueberries, teecchino nut crumble $9
mini vegan carrot cupcakes
"cream cheese" frosting, tiny candied 'purple haze' CARROTS $6

Both desserts were out of this world. I didn't think carrot cake could be so delicious but it was. The frosting was not overpowering but just delicately enhanced the cake. The tiny carrots were fun. The cheesecake was more like a layered "falooda" - with the crunchy nut crumble and the blueberries complimenting the sweet creamy part very elegantly. A beautiful ending to the meal in Napa on a hot day! The bill came to around $80 for the two of us with tax and tip.

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