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Monday, October 12, 2009

Ubuntu: Napa, California

Today is the 2-year birthday of this blog! Two. Years. When I started this blog, I didn't really conceptualize all the effort, photography and time that would go into documenting what I am cooking, eating, and drinking. But it's worth it--it holds me accountable for what I am doing in the kitchen and giving careful thought to what I choose to consume every day. But now, I also think about what I am recommending to you to consume! Happy Birthday, morgansmenu!

I know a lot of people who have a bit of a birthday routine. My brother likes to have a celebratory dinner at Nobu. One friend of mine always throws a birthday bash, complete with birthday decorations and party hats. Another friend of mine takes menu requests from her husband on his brithday and makes him whatever his heart desires. Sadly, I have never really had a birthday tradition--mostly because it's on November 28, which is always around the Thanksgiving holidays (and sometimes on Thanksgiving day) and friends are busy with family and holiday plans. But now, after just one meal at Ubuntu, I hope to start my very own birthday tradition by celebrating at my new favorite restaurant.
Ubuntu is a collaboration between Jeremy Fox and his wife, Pastry Chef Deanie Fox. Jeremy has said in interviews that rather than being a "vegetarian restaurant" it is more of a vegetable restaurant that can also appeal to open-minded omnivores. Such careful attention is paid to the quality and versatility of vegetables that I was totally surprised to learn that Jeremy is actually a meat eater! Jeremy is meticulous about his "seed to stalk" cuisine where every single part of a vegetable is used and recreated in unique preparations. Ubuntu has its own biodynamic garden in Napa to source about 75% of its needs so instead of relying on what they can buy from farms, they have more control over their dishes based on what they choose to grow.
The dishes are served "small plates" style and my only disappointment was that the vague menu descriptions did not adequately explain what would actually come to your table (see my translated descriptions below). Above all, I am beyond impressed by Jeremy's incredible creativity and masterful technique in everything he does. The ritual of deconstructing every element of his dishes quickly becomes a relaxing routine as you settle into your seat hoping to stay awhile...

Lavender Marcona Almonds with lavender sugar and sea salt.
Crispy garden fritters made with the "nasty bits" with creme fraiche, vegetable "parts", tiny beets, "trail mix". These fritters had a very earthly complex flavor that was complemented with what I can only describe as a beet and seed paste.
Heirloom tomatoes, simply sliced, 'polka' corn pudding, burrata cheese with corn pulp crunchies, surrey arugula, assorted basil, saba. The corn "pudding" was a midly sweet puree with an intense corn flavor. The "fritters"--the most interesting component--seemed like corn pulp and husk pieces that had been compressed and dehydrated to create a crisp cracker.
Carta da Musica, with virtually the entire summer garden: barely dressed, round pond olive-oil-lemon-sea salt, truffled pecorino. I am desperately curious about why this salad comes out on a pig-shaped wooden board. Eating this salad--with your hands--was such a gratifying experience. At first, I was looking around for some dressing to moisten the greens, but I quickly realized that this was an intentional omission. I quickly yielded to the methodical ritual of scooping up the edible flowers and spicy mustard greens with thick curls of truffled pecorino cheese and using my fingers to press into a delicate and flavorful beet and hazelnut "dirt". The greens and flowers are also neatly piled onto a thin crispy disc similar to a papadum.
Organic grits from arbuckle infused with goat's milk with domaine de la chance egg, homemade goat ricotta, green tomato jam, autumn thinnings. I fell in love with these grits. The end.
Summer squash of all ages, roast-puree-condimento with stuffed blossom, scented with our vadouvan, mint. Squash was cooked with three different preparations from raw to roasted to pureed and foamed with French vadouvan spices that provide sweet curry accents. This dish captured my heart--it is one of the best dishes I have ever eaten.
At this point, I was completed enveloped in mind-blowing-divine foodie ecstacy. The time had come to order dessert, but I am so full that I can only order one dish. This is me agonizing over my choices. Do I get Deanie's signature dessert--a vanilla bean "cheesecake" in a jar with blueberry-huckleberry-sunberry and teeccino-nut crumble??
In the end, I opted for a corn cake with roasted nectarines, blackberry compote, corn pudding, beet shoots, honey ice cream and popcorn dust.
I left the restaurant feeling inspired as though I had just been to a temple where baby zucchini and heirloom tomatoes each sat on a decorated throne for all to worship and adore. The food is so clean, creative and pure that it created a sort of spiritual renewal within me--no wonder the restaurant is also attached to a yoga studio--I am starting to see the whole picture.

Because the menu changes daily according to the fruits of their garden, and because I just can't get e-n-o-u-g-h, I tried to track down a few more gorgeous photos so you can continue to oogle and swoon at these works of art.

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