I had a friend visiting from out of town last week who had, on more than one occasion, expressed to me her frustration with the response she was getting from restaurants in Denver when requesting a vegetarian meal. Having spent many years cooking in restaurants whose philosophy was always, give the customer what they want, I was shocked and disappointed to hear that my friend was receiving such a negative reaction to her simple request.
When my friend recently announced that she would be coming for a visit I knew that it was my duty to show her that in San Francisco vegetarians are treated as equals.
In addition to many local eateries, I secured us a reservation at Ubuntu, a hot new vegetarian restaurant (and yoga studio) in the heart of Napa. Frank Bruni, the New York Times food critic, named Ubuntu one of his top 10 picks for new restaurants in the country in 2008 so I knew we were in for something special.
Ubuntu did not disappoint. We started our meal by ordering a selection of small bites — marcona almonds lightly coated in lavendar, sea salt and sugar, massive, meaty green olives tossed in a luscious arugula pesto and chick pea fries with a romesco dipping sauce. All three were delicious.
We followed next with a number of different dishes, the best of which was a beautifully composed beet salad adorned with surprises like ‘dirt’ made from hazelnuts, an ‘egg yolk’ made from golden beet puree and thin strips of pickled rhubarb. Other highlights were grits topped with shaved, firm goat cheese, a slow cooked egg and arugula beignets; a fresh fava bean stew adorned with peas, garbanzos and micro greens; and their signature dish, cauliflower cooked in a cast iron pot which, that evening, was scented with a subtle curry flavor.
We were underwhelmed by a strawberry-burrata pizza that was somewhat bland and a palate confusing dessert that was composed of mango sorbet, beet tapioca balls, hibiscus juice and fresh fruit. We were, however, blown away by the comfort and beauty of the dining room and by the stellar service.
I would definitely go back to Ubuntu if given the opportunity because chef Jeremy Fox is doing some of the most creative food I’ve come across in ages. The fact that the menu is all meat free and the majority of the produce used is grown by the restaurant or locally sourced just makes the experience all the better.