I've been reading here on CH for at least a year or two about the excellence of Ubuntu, and finally had a meal slot available in that area. Reservations were available on OpenTable a few days before, and there were communal table slots clearly available for walk-ins.
Earlier in the day, I talked to a gentleman who said he dines at Ubuntu every few months, that he loves, them, but they might have "lost their edge" (not slipping, not downhill, just "lost the edge"). In particular, he mentioned the signature cauliflower dish, and recommended I send it back if burnt. I can only say if what I had was "edgeless", the previous state must have been rapturous.
We arrived at 8 and took on the tasting menu. 7 courses, 3 amuse, but frankly I don't remember how many of what, and couldn't tell the courses from the amuse.
Some of the dishes were imperfect. In particular, there was a avocado paired with a german Sauterne-like wine supposedly to simulate a fois gras preparation which wasn't over the top enough to count as humor, and didn't seem like fois gras enough to be non-humous. The first dish, which was melon and some other things ("caviar" must have been a non-fish caviar substance) in a coconut/lemongrass soup broth was delightful, but the soup part overwhelmed the small slivers of melon - the two bites with the melon were exceptional.
There were, however, two dishes that were best ever, astonishing, dishes. One involved Shiso Ice. I am a massive fan of Shiso leaf, and at the core of this very complicated dish with huckleberries underneath - amazing. The second dish involved the BeetBerries, where the presentation included beets, a beetberry sauce, and a foot long sprig of beetberries straight from their garden placed between us for grazing by hand. BeetBerries are some kind of lost cousin of spinach which fruit if left to their own devices. The fruit is closest to raspberries, but not really close to anything. It's just a beetberry. There was a radish dish that probably included a radish pod - some pod like thing about 5mm wide. The final desert was a carrot cake bite with the world's smallest thread of carrot on top - candied - although it was about the size of a saffron thread.
In general, that was the rule of the day: a massive complexity of ingredients, astonishing execution. Fruits and vegetables that I had never heard of. Dishes that, if just eaten would be super-tasty but when pulled apart and thought of from a technical or semantic level, became more interesting. Interestingly, there was no cauliflower - because the chef has realized not to dwell on the old hits, or just more interesting dishes available that evening? Certainly not serving califlower out of season, as my informant suggested.
When dealing with that number of dishes, the amount of "misfires" becomes trivial. The dishes that "didn't work" were still tasty, just not Gorgeous and Thoughtful.
The wine pairings were good. Starting was actually a Ginjo Sake with a crisper nose than I've smelled in a while. There was a Pommard in the middle somewhere, some kind of light rustic italian red that tasted blocky by itself but was exactly correct for the paired dish. Desert was a bit of a misfire, with a fizzy italian fruity wine paired with some serious chocolate. The server noticed that we didn't drink hardly any, and repaired with something like a Madiera, which we thought was more suitable - although the light italian thing paired with the petit fours properly; a real chalenge to pair between the dish and (what was essentially) an amuse.
Price: about $100 each for the tasting menu. About $30 for the pairings (which they allowed just one for our table of two - of course my dining partner had a small sip of each, no complaints from staff, and the occasional top-up when the food faltered). Out the door $150/pp, which I considered fair.
This was the first tasting menu where I've not felt overwhelmed by the end. TFL I knew I was "toast" somewhere before the last few courses. Not so at ubuntu. The dishes are complex, but the lack of all that fat keeps it light and interesting, and kept me in the game, appreciating what was coming next.
I would complain just a little about the combination of service and setting. The restaurant is casual / smart, gorgeous wood tables with no cloth, beautiful room. Everyone around us was getting individual dishes. The spacing between tables was about 2 feet. The couple next to us as we sat down appeared to be on the Worst Date Ever, which wouldn't have been a problem if they were a foot further away. Courses lagged and accelerated a few times. The server was engaging and knowledgeable, though, kept us laughing.
Here are my suggestions for the restaurant:
* People enjoying the tasting menu are looking for (and paying for) a different category of experience. You don't want to create the haves and have nots, but seating us closer to the kitchen (so the server and staff didn't have to walk so far), and in a more roomy environment, would have been suitable. Since we had a 8pm reservation and ate until 11, seating us closer to the kitchen would have been better as the restaurant emptied out. [And, to anyone making a reservation, tell them you intend the tasting menu, maybe they would naturally seat you differently - honestly, I didn't know I wanted the tasting menu until I scanned the menu ]
* For god's sake, print out the tasting menu so people can take it home. The dishes are fiendishly complex, the noise level rose and fell a few times, some of the ingredients I had never heard of (and I'm pretty well read). If you went through that much trouble to *make* the dishes, you can print out a sheet with the menu on it.
* I would have enjoyed if the chef came out or something. It was the end of the night, I doubt he or she was in the middle of 3 other things.
Let me point out something I don't remember from the other reviews. This isn't just a tasting menu restaurant, or even primarily a tasting menu restaurant. It's also just a plain, good a la carte place. On a saturday night, in summer, they were fully geared up to take on the world's best in a tasting menu. On the regular menu I think you'd spend a bit but not a huge amount, if you're careful, and have an extraordinary meal. None of the dishes on the a la carte menu showed up on the tasting menu, but see previous regarding a print of the menu.
Finally, an obligatory note about the vegitarian aspect of the restaurant. I had spent the day expending a few thousand calories bicycling. I had scoped out where Taylor's Refresher was (and even a Jack in the Box) because my muscles were screaming for fuel and I wanted an option. On walking out, I didn't think about any of that - I, and my body, was fully satisfied. There is a sense it's not a vegitarian restaurant - it's a restaurant without meat.
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