I was fortunate enough to get four seats for the first Tuesday night dinner at Ubuntu with guest chef James Syhabout of Commis. I have enjoyed dining at Ubuntu a few times prior and was looking forward to this free form dinner. They took 18 reservations and the guests were seated at the large communal table that runs through the center of the restaurant.
Chef Jeremy Fox and Chef Syhabout worked as co-Sous Chefs at Manresa and are good friends. They never worked together on the line as they were on separate sides of the kitchen at Manresa so this was an opportunity for them to work together.
The dinner started out with an amuse bouche of sunchoke veloute - a warming cup of smooth, creamy puree deeply perfumed by the earthiness of sunchokes along with a restrained addition of vanilla. The foamy top layer was dusted with the tiniest smidge of finely ground ritual coffee; the bitterness of the coffee rounded out the innate sweetness of the sunchokes perfectly. This was the only course besides dessert to be served individually - the rest of the meal was served family style.
Next came a crunchy oca salad. Oca, citrus, fuyus, avocado and macadamia came together in a textural fireworks display - crunch of the oca, silky smoothness of the avocado, acid from the citrus, toastiness of the macadamias and the tart sweetness of the perfectly ripe fuyus made it one of my favorite dishes of the night.
Next was a platter of "big ass" beets - a variety of different - a few of them GIANT, cooked in a salt crust. The dinners were instructed to break the crust and scoop out all the different kinds of beets. This was great fun. The beets were gorgeous and quite tasty - served along side an absolutely delicious quince soffrito and a horseradish green salsa - the sweetness of the beets matched with the savoriness of the soffrito and the pungent blast of horseradish was a revelation.
Then we were treated to a platter of deeply flavored Pinnacle Farms potatoes roasted in hay served with savoy cabbage, brassicas and fried eggs - really a simple dish but so complex at the same time. . .the potatoes had a bright earthiness from their own natural flavor and the hay. The eggs were gorgeous - bright yolks perfect for dipping potatoes into! The platter was layered with a deep purple rough puree of purple cauliflower - it was utterly delicious. The savoy cabbage was perfectly cooked leaves scattered about the platter.
The next course of the evening showed the chefs' playful side - Roasted Riverdog Farms "misfit" carrots - gnarled orange and red carrots steamed until just tender with little divots dug out along each carrot and those divots dotted with teeny tiny raw carrots - served simply with a little creamy carrot puree on the plate, caraway salt and carrot top greens - simple and playful - the carrots having an amazing depth of flavor.
Next came a deep bowl of mashua that had been cooked by burying the root in ash and embers - it was smoky and tender. It was served atop a purple yam puree that was rich with coconut milk - the dish was accented with cilantro and marash pepper which accented the smokiness but added a nice kick to the overall flavor of the dish.
The next dish to the table was a yin & yang "risotto" made up of a creamy black barley risotto swirled into the dish's namesake symbol with a white barley risotto - this dish was deeply flavored creamy and rich. The richness was countered by crystallized sunflower petals and crunch was added with sunflower seeds. Lots of cream and parmesan cheese in this dish made this the richest dish of the evening. It was really delicious.
They saved the biggest and best for last. A giant Lunga di Napoli squash filled with an absolutely stunning savory brioche stuffing. . . studded with port soaked sultanas, rich brioche, and crunchy pine nuts. The two halves of the squash were so massive that they had to fashion makeshift platters with full sheetpans, burlap and string - it was a joy to watch the kitchen "McGyver" the solution!
Last course (by now we were all begging for mercy) was a delightful dessert of a masterfully fried beignet topped with a mulling spice roasted fuyu persimmon, thinly fanned atop the beignet topped with chamomile ice cream sitting atop a burnt mandarin caramel. As spent as I was, I managed to eat this beautiful dessert.
Wine was donated and served by Jamie & Michelle Whetstone - they were wonderful wines that paired perfectly with the food - the wine flowed freely and generously.
While the food was incredibly good, I think the best part of the evening was watching the chefs interact with each other and with the guests - they were truly having fun. If you've ever been to Ubuntu or Commis for regular service, you know the intensity with which both these chefs cook - this was a chance for them to let loose a little and have a lot of fun all the while serving incredibly delicious food. Chef Jeremy asked for a song list from each guest, made a playlist and that was the music for the evening - it was great fun trying to figure out who requested what song. The service was casual but still attentive. All in all, I felt like I was experiencing a once in a lifetime event and am very happy to have been there. Chef Syhabout was asked if he'd host a similar dinner at his restaurant and he said yes and that it would include a lot of meat!
Ubuntu Restaurant & Yoga Studio
1140 Main Street, Napa, CA 94558