1140 Main St.
Napa, CA 94559
Hours: Su-Th 11:30-2:30 and 5:30-9:00| Fr-Sa 11:30-2:30 and 5:30-10:00
Ubuntu opened more than a year ago, and my husband was more keen on going than I was. He would suggest trying it out, and I'd roll my eyes and snicker and come up with a better suggestion. The idea of a vegetarian restaurant/ yoga studio sounds just plain silly, and I have had some pretty lousy experiences in vegetarian restaurants. One of the most disgusting things I've ever
put in my mouth was a spoonful of a vegan"stroganoff" made with tofu
and (I think) boiled socks. And I believe in my heart of hearts that
Texturized Vegetable Protein and veggie burger patties with painted-on
grill marks are crimes against nature. My theory is that it is impossible to be a vegetarian and still prepare and appreciate good food. And life is too short for bad food.
After enough stalling and putting it off on my part, my husband insisted that we check the place out. I practically had to be tied up and dragged into this place. Yes, I had a bad attitude when I walked in the door of Ubuntu. But once I did walk in and try the food....well, shut my mouth and call me a tree-hugging beatnik! The food was actually delicious! Not just good (which would have exceeded my expectations)--but downright tasty. Even the butter that they gave us for our bread was exceptionally good. Who knew that vegetarians can have good taste in butter?
We split a really tasty chickpea with burrata appetizer that was cooked perfectly-the chickpeas were tender and not grainy at all. We saw on the menu a wild nettle pizza with goat cheese. We didn't know what nettle is, so we asked for more information from the waitress. She didn't do a particularly good job of selling it, though, just saying, "uhm, it's sort of like a weed. It tastes really bad raw." OK. We decided to try it anyway, and the waitress suggested that we might like it with a cooked egg on top. It turned out to be a great suggestion. The pizza was very flavorful and delicious, and the cooked egg was a nice complement. We also had a cauliflower casserole, which was a little on the skimpy side in terms of portion size, but it was cooked to perfection in a creamy sauce. For dessert, we had a "cheesecake" in a jar that really did come in a jar. We're not sure why the menu had the "cheesecake" in "quotes," but like everything else, it was delicious, with a sour cherry topping.
For another lunch, we went with a lighter appetizer and had some marcona almonds with a lavender salt and sugar mix. I liked the lavender more than my husband, who doesn't like his nuts perfumed (you think you know someone after so many years, but oh well...). Hard to go wrong with salty/sweet marcona almonds though.
We also had a vegan milkshake which turned out to be made of bananas, ice, and almond milk. It was actually pretty mild, and not too sweet either. Designed more to be had with your meal rather than a dessert although it can work in that way too.
Their robuchon potatoes dish with a farmer's egg was delicious. The mushroom "bordelaise" is very hearty and goes really well with the super creamy potatoes. Some fried potato skins are placed on top with the greens. Highly recommended.
This is farro with black trumpets and some broccoli stems. It's a pistou so the dish comes out just a bit warm as the plate is hotter than the actual meal. You have the mild and earthy tastes from the farro, mushrooms, and broccoli along with some lemon to liven things up. It was nice, but as a main dish left us wanting something with a bit more heft.
And for dessert, a citrus rhubarb float. Some nice sorbet up top, the soda, and then at the bottom are bits of orange, rhubarb, kumquats too. Very light and a nice pick me up if you have some of the heavier dishes at Ubuntu.
What works about Ubuntu is that they're not trying to make you think you're eating meat. Instead, Ubuntu makes really good food that stands on its own. And Ubuntu doesn't bill itself as a vegetarian's restaurant. It bills itself as a vegetable restaurant. All you know (and need to know) is that it is just plain good. And, as expected of a restaurant named Ubuntu attached to a Yoga studio, the food is all organic and is probably blessed somehow with some karmic overflow.
Long story short--I really liked the food here. I will go back. Willingly.
Tasting menu experience
We did finally end up going to the dinner tasting menu, and it was great. Probably one of the best that we've had in the area which is pretty impressive to us because we like meat. But the textures and flavors were terrific. The amuse was their cool watermelon and lemongrass soup which has coconut milk as the base. Very smooth and very refreshing. And I think I could eat a bag of fried basil everyday.
The next dish is peas and shoots in shell consomme. My husband absolutely loved this dish. I was surprised because he normally can't stand peas. He raved about the freshness and texture of these fresh-from-the-garden peas combined with the sweet crunchiness of the white chocolate and macademia nut and the mint. This is certainly the best "spring is here" dish I've ever had. However, I can't say this was my favorite dish on the menu. My heart (and probably, eventual heart attack) belongs to the cauliflower in the cast-iron pot...Read on!
Next up was the mushroom toast. A very rich brioche that was cooked with a bucket of butter that goes head to head with 3 preparations of porcini mushrooms (puree, roasted, raw) sitting on top of roasted frisee. Delicious although I thought they went from light, sweet, and spring from the prior course to heavy and rich in hurry.
The next dish came in two pieces. The first shown below had the chickpea fries wtih herbs and romesco sauce. Chickpea fries are a pretty good idea. There's some cauliflower "couscous" with bits of citrus in it.
The second part of this entree is one of Ubuntu's signature dishes, their cauliflower in a cast-iron pot with vadouvan. We'd had this before, and it was as great as I remembered it. Rich, creamy, cooked to perfection, rich....This is the one dish that we had to share. There are 3 types of cauliflower preparations in the dish. Roast, puree, and thin raw slices. Delicious, delicious, delicious.
This next dish was Ubuntu's version of a coq au vin, but instead of an old rooster, you have an egg which was soft-boiled and then breaded and quickly fried, sitting in a cabernet sauce. I'm not sure if the chef was tipping his toque at the "chicken-and-egg" riddle (the chicken IS the egg!). If so, I think it's clever. I don't think either of us had ever had a deep-fried egg (and we've lived in the South, mind you), but we definitely approve.
Overall, this dish was lighter than the previous one, and I'm not sure if that was the intent. You still have the richness of the sauce, but you're back to roasted spring vegetables and an egg. We assume that with this menu, they were trying to go for the traditional progression that you normally see in non-vege tasting menus, with the heaviest, meatiest dish at the end before the cheese course. Maybe in principle, a "coq au vin" shouldn't follow a cauliflower dish in a non-vege tasting menu. But the previous cauliflower dish is quite rich, much more so than this interpretation of coq au vin. But all this is a minor quibble. All that matters is that it was tasty, and I wanted more.
Prepping us for dessert, our refresher course. Andante Dairy's impromptu cheese with a honey-roasted apricot. Admittedly, the surrey arugula looked more like it fell on the plate by accident rather than being a main ingredient as listed on the menu, but hey, it was still a fun cheese and honey dish. The impromptu cheese wasn't too heavy, but it was nice to have the small bites of apricot to act as a counterbalance. I probably would've liked nuts more than crisps.
And finally, the lemon verbena pudding. The crunchy thing at the top was like a thin, sweet brittle covered with salty popcorn to give a perfect kettle corn sweet and salty mix. Warm blackberries and blueberries in the middle, sitting on top of sweet corn ice cream. The dessert packs some surprisingly strong tastes between the sweet / salty mix of the wafer as well as the very vibrant taste of the berry mixture.
On the menu, it said there were chocolate petit fours coming after dessert, but we didn't get any. We didn't even notice until we got home and looked over the menu again. This was fine because we were pretty stuffed between the dishes and the wine pairing (which, by the way, mostly went really well with the dishes even if we can't remember the labels. Yes, we're hicks.)
Ubuntu setting and service
Nicely decorated, very open area with lots of ambient light from the huge storefront windows. In the middle of the restaurant sits a community table. On the second floor, you can see the yoga studio, and you see the silhouettes of the participants occasionally.
The service overall is fine and fairly young, cute, and casual. Sometimes, the descriptions are a bit weird ("looks like a weed" is not a way to sell a menu selection), but maybe she was new.
Ubuntu is one of the busier places in the city of Napa, particularly around dinner where you will want a reservation. Early afternoon lunches are definitely less packed.
Price of our meal
Appetizer + 2 entrees + 1 dessert + 2 glasses of wine + tax/tip= $80
Dinner tasting menu with wine pairings + tax and tip = $290
Other Ubuntu reviews
- Chuckeats review (some gorgeous photos of the meals)
- San Francisco Chronicle review of Ubuntu
- A Life Worth Eating's review (nice photos as well)
- Writeup from the Gourmet Pig. The irony. :)
- Nice review from A Few Reservations
- Deans Guide Review.
- Fork and Bottle review
- Review and pics from Feast