Dinner at Ubuntu in Napa, California
After hearing all of the heaps of praise this place has received, I was pretty excited about coming up here tonight (1140 Main Street, 707-251-5656). The premise of this vegetarian restaurant was that ingredients came from their self-sustaining garden. And this Michelin-starred kitchen was apparently able to do wonders with such seasonal Californian vegetables - so much that even carnivores were big fans. It sounded pretty darned good to me.
Our meal started out with their signature garden "snake" featuring a bunch of unconventional green leaves and roots laid out on a wooden board in a winding shape (and hence, the name). It was lightly seasoned with some herbs, oil, and pecorino cheese, the combination of which appealed to me. But I wasn't that big of a fan of our next two items: a turnip soup as well as some steamed bun with burrata. Sure, they were delicate and tasted fine, but I was hoping for something punchier.
And that's when I started to get rather fatigued with it all, as subsequent courses kept featuring a bunch of esoteric vegetables but were also so subdued in taste that I couldn't help but associate many of them with that rather unflattering rabbit food cliché. Now, I'm sure that it required a very talented staff to create these beautiful dishes, which were respectfully tasty in their own right. But none of them really struck an emotional chord with me; by the time we left, I was extremely full, but not satisfied.
Part of it was our own fault. The menu was littered with so many exotic ingredient names on it that we just deferred to our server to pick our dishes for us. In retrospect, there were a number of other items (like a bean stew or plate of grits) that I think I would have liked a lot more. In the meantime, I can take consolation in the fact that it was very healthy, very local, and all with the added conscience bonus of eating at such a socially responsible place.