After all the hype, I couldn’t stand it any longer – I had to try Ubuntu. I made reservations and planned for a day of wine and food. We made our way to Napa this past Saturday and, after what turned out to be an absolutely amazing meal, I am certain that there will be many more trips to come.
The four of us chose to have the evening’s tasting menu. We also included 3 supplemental courses which were served family style. We had:
chilled GREEN GARLIC vichyssoise
fingerling potato, aged black garlic
*chickpeas with manchego
red pepper quenelles with mint, olive vinaigrette
RADISHES with local chevre and nori
banyuls vinaigrette, smoked salt, HONG VIT
CARROTS and TANGELO
“crumble” of dried carrot, almond and mace
cauliflower in a cast-iron pot with our vadouvan
roast-puree-shoots-“couscous”, CORIANDER SPROUTS
*pizza with slow-cooked KALES and garlic
chili oil, parmesan, & RED RUSSIAN KALE pesto and fried local farm egg
smoked anson mills grits with a slow farm egg
blue bottle “red eye” gravy, BORDEAUX SPINACH
*mushroom pizza bianco
puree of the trimmings, bellwether ricotta
scharffen berger chocolate souffle
ROSEMARY ice cream and candied hazelnuts
We also had two bottles of wine, a South African white (I wasn’t paying much attention when this was ordered) and a bottle of Groth Cabernet Sauvignon. The Groth was incredibly closed (which left me a little worried) and they were happy to decent the wine for us. Fortunately, it opened up wonderfully – every sip was better than the last. I’ll be certainly to get myself on their mailing list.
Put plainly, the food was phenomenal. Some dishes were beyond that, providing a glimpse of the type of eye-opening cuisine I had hoped for at other Bay Area restaurants.
Chez Panisse was one of those restaurants. More or less the birthplace of California cuisine, I read all the accolades about how their simple preparations were absolutely revelatory: “THIS is what *insert item* is supposed to taste like!” I can’t say how incredibly disappointed I was when I actually dined there for the first time. While the food was “good,” nothing was awe-inspiring and left me with the impression that I could make the vast majority of their dishes at home as well or better than what I had that evening (albeit not dishes that require a wood-burning oven, etc., though I felt other restaurants with the same equipment resources could have done as well or better). I suffered the pain of an experience not living up to expectations.
Well, certain dishes at Ubuntu proved to be revelatory, the eye-openers I had hoped for at Chez Panisse. The radish dish was absolutely incredible. THIS is what radishes should taste like! The combination of chevre and nori was lovely. Even my “I don’t like radishes” friend loved it making this a 4 for 4 “wow” dish. The cauliflower was a close second – once the toasted bread was gone, we attacked the cast ion pot with our forks. The scent of the vadouvan was practically intoxicating. Yet another 4 for 4 “wow” dish. Mind you, the vichyssoise and carrot dish were not far behind.
We did not have a single complaint about the food. The service had a few bobbles here and there; however, given the more casual nature of the restaurant, we barely noticed. The staff seemed a bit reserved at the beginning, though this was probably our own fault. We needed to try two tables before finally being seated at a third: our 6:30PM reservation meant that the blinding sun was perfectly angled at these first two tables. I’m sure the thoughts of “ugh, high maintenance” went through their minds, though they quickly proved to be incredibly warm and friendly.
One of my friends checked his watch when we received our bill – we had been there for 2.5 hours. It certainly didn’t feel that long… I suppose time really does fly when you’re having fun! The bill came with an assortment of mignardise: gelees, cookies, madeleines, caramels, and saffron lollies. With about a 25% tip, our individual financial contribution to the evening was $115 (the wine alone was around $120 of the total bill). Although we were very full as we made our exit, we couldn’t help but get caught up by the scent of the cauliflower dish being whisked to other tables. Oh. My. God.
Count me among the impressed!