Ubuntu: Napa, CA

27 Oct
by Francine

Ubuntu: (downtown) Napa, CA

As Luke (my brother) and I stood outside this restaurant looking at the menu, two young women walked by and read, “Restaurant and Yoga Studio…how do they do that?!” It does make one imagine some wacky things—your waiter delivering your food with a sun salutation and then leading you in down dog stretches between courses to relax your stomach muscles.A photo of the window

While fun to imagine, I knew that wouldn’t be the case at Ubuntu since I’d visited their website prior to our lunch reservation.  I read about their garden/farm to table approach and discovered that the space serves as both a yoga studio and a restaurant (just not at the same time). I also knew that I’d be eating a vegetarian meal, which as someone who enjoys slow roasted pork shoulder, I was a bit uncertain. 

I mean I love my veggies, but I just didn’t know how fabulous they could be.  Ubuntu showed me that vegetables can be ah-mazing. This restaurant knocked us out of our tree poses (or for you Yoga enthusiasts Vrksasana). The creativity, flavour and presentation of the food we had at Ubuntu only happens every so often, but when it does—it’s unforgettable!

(Update: Ubuntu will be taking a sabbatical through the winter months, beginning Nov. 21st. Find out more information on their facebook wall.)

Review: (See Real Local Cooking’s criteria.)
Localness: 4

The menu changes according to what’s in season and the menu clearly highlights which items come from Ubuntu’s garden by listing the items from their garden in capital letters. Every dish seemed to have at least 2 items from their own Biodynamic garden. I overhead one of the servers explaining their growing practices to an inquisitive guest. I imagine that if one would like to they could arrange to visit their nearby garden.

A photo of the MenuWith such an obvious connection to their ingredients I imagined I’d find (at least) a small garden out the back door. I peeked when I went to the restroom, but no, just a small patio for al fresco dining and a parking lot. Ubuntu is after all in downtown Napa, which is great because it’s easy to find. 

And since it’s located in the fertile Napa Valley, the ingredients they use in their dishes don’t have to travel far. Their website states, “The vegetable inspired menu features ingredients from our local Napa gardens.”  Also, according to their website, “[they] adhere to the seasonal calendar and participate with local producers for products [they] are unable to farm, and [they] contribute to a greener earth by relying less on global food sources and those products with the highest carbon emission and water footprint.”

Flavour: 5

As I mentioned above, I enjoy meat dishes and I was somewhat hesitant about a ‘vegetable restaurant’ (I think one too many soggy falafels had done me in). However, the dishes we shared at Ubuntu amazed us. We probably sounded a bit funny if anyone overheard our lunch conversation. We were continually stammering, “oh the flavour,” while scooping up another dainty bite, and then muttering “wow…the flavour!” A photo of the carrot dish

One dish we had featured 24 hour marinated carrots. Every bite of this complex dish had a different taste. There wasn’t a single flavour we could pin down, they all twisted together and left us muttering to our empty forks, “wow! that’s good.”

Before Ubuntu, I couldn’t even imagine that vegetables could be so interesting, complex and swoon-inducing. We cleaned our plates completely—we didn’t want to miss out on one tiny bit of flavour.

Pleasant Surprise: Yes

Each dish was a work of art: this was a very pleasant and wonderful surprise.  The first dish that we ordered was described as a gazpacho soup with many ingredients, one of which was char-grilled lime peanuts and another was melon. The dish that arrived was gorgeous—itty bitty leaves, a nearly every shade of green and served in an elegant white dish. 

The server held in her hand a small white vase and told us she was going to pour…something (I can’t remember what, because I was so overwhelmed by the loveliness of what was in front of me). She poured a clear liquid into the dish and it transformed into a little pond. The leaves delicately floated on the surface, the peanuts sunk like rocks to the bottom and a droplet of liquid rested on tiny scalloped leaf,  like a dew drop on a lily pad. It was a thing of beauty. Probably the most beautiful thing I’ve ever eaten. Magical.A photo of the magic

Comfort+Coziness = The C factor: 5

The restaurant was open and inviting: a high ceiling, big windows, long wooden tables, cozy corner tables, a bar, interesting yoga inspired sculptures and an open kitchen, which was clean and bustling. The service was welcoming and fast.

For a restaurant with one Michelin Star, there could be a tendency towards condescension, but that was not the case. The server clearly explained how the menu was set up—the menu items are appetizer sized so people usually order a few to share. This helped us feel less bewildered as we looked at the gourmet menu. Ubuntu definitely had a good vibe—maybe it comes from the veggie goodness or the yoga zen, but it could just be that laid back California charm.

Overall Rating: 14+

I highly recommend Ubuntu for a unique and memorable meal. It’s doing things right: using quality locally produced ingredients in creative and inspired ways. While it’s certainly worth it, it is a bit of a splurge. Our meal of four dishes came to about $65.  But for that price we enjoyed four unique dishes—full of flavour and beauty, with a little magic poured on top.

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