August 03, 2008

Ubuntu Restaurant & Yoga Studio

Restaurant and yoga studio? No, I am not making that up, restaurant AND yoga studio, though I didn’t do any sun salutations before, during or after the meal… Let me explain. Went to Napa for the Taste 3 conference (the 3 referring to Food, Wine, and Art, capital letters obliges, simply fabulous, but more on that another time lest I get totally sidetracked). The night before the conference I had dinner with my boss at the restaurant rated #1 in the country by Frank Bruni. For anyone reading this not living in the center of the universe, Bruni is the restaurant critic for the New York Times. Normally I don’t give such credence to critics, but I had tasted one of the restaurant’s dishes in Aspen, at Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs evening and it was amazing. Could I sound more pretentious? Moving on.

Ubuntu, our server explained, means “humanity towards others” in an African language. No I don’t recall which one, but there’s video message from Nelson Mandela on the restaurant’s website. Draw your own conclusion. Anyway, according to the site, “Celebrating the natural bounty of the earth, Ubuntu is less about a philosophy of no meat and instead a celebration of our own biodynamic gardens.” Now this doesn’t sound particularly like my kind of dining experience. No meat, mostly vegan, hmm, visions of self-righteous, earthy-crunchy vegetarians danced in my head. I’m a weird food snob who’s super picky about what kind of lettuces cross my plate let alone fork – no field greens, no arugula, I know, I know, and forget about sprouts – ick. So I braced myself for a tofu and raw veggie fest. Au contraire, mes amis. The space was stylish African ethnic, the servers knowledgeable but not overly zealous, and most importantly, the food was delicious.

We started with marcona almonds dusted with lavender, sugar and sea salt. As soon as they were placed on the table, a deliciously tantalizing aroma practically transported me to the field of lavender and sunflowers in Provence that Sabine took me to years ago. Given that it was a beautiful balmy night and we were sitting in the restaurant’s garden, this was not such a stretch. The almonds set the stage for chickpea fries with hebs and a romanesco sauce (a kind of fresh tomato sauce); baby beets roasted in nectarine juices with speckled quinoa, hazelnuts, and ficoide glaciale (think that last bit was the green sprig on top that I didn’t eat); grilled peach and french bean salad (so glad they didn’t call them haricots verts), with burrata (super creamy homemade mozzarella, sooo good) and pesto, basil vinegar.

Eveything was ridiculously fresh, vibrant, and super tasty, though some of the dishes were a tad over-salted. And I felt virtuous. This food had to be good for you and there were no food miles. Of course none of this green-eco stuff would have mattered if the food wasn’t gorgeous – and I mean this in the Irish way - pretty and yummy. I just watched the irish movie “Once” on dvd, cut me some slack. The kitchen also showed a sense of humor as the dessert we ordered, bowl of frosted feuilletine with bananas, vanilla ice cream, and warm parsnip milk was a riff on frosted flakes. Never thought I’d eat parsnip milk, didn’t even know such a thing existed and rice dream sort of disgusts me. But this was fun and yummy, not sure what descriptor the Irish would use for that combination. Oh, and we drank a wonderful, very floral yet dry Moscato Giallo from Lageder, from the Alto Adige region of Italy. Client plug, check.

Quite a wonderful experience all in all. I wouldn’t go there all the time, but well worth trying at least once and I might even return on a future trip out there. Next time though I’ll bring a yoga mat.


Edie said...

People should read this.

The Vilafonte Wine Blog said...

Hi Vino Girl - when are you going to be visiting me in South Africa?
Mike Ratcliffe