Ubuntu

Ubuntu is a culinary oasis nestled in quaint downtown Napa, CA. This was my second time dining with them and it was somehow even more impressive than the first (which I had previously dubbed "the best overall food experience of my life"). This gem is superior to any other vegetarian restaurant I've been to for several reasons - the biggest of which is the creative energy that goes into not just the presentation of the dishes, but also the ways in which the seasonal ingredients are utilized throughout the rotating menu. Sometimes the same two ingredients will appear in several dishes on the menu, but you'd never know it because they're used in wildly different ways, all expertly prepared. Before visiting Ubuntu, I had never even heard of a "sunchoke," and I'd certainly never eaten one...but during this visit I ate it in two distinct forms on different dishes - both were fantastic. Also worth a mention: head chef Aaron London is only 26 years old (!) - very inspiring. Ubuntu's mission is "to bring to our customers a bounty of local biodynamically gardened produce handled with care and skill by talented artisans and chefs providing an unparalleled experience connecting our customers to the bounty of the earth. Our mission is extended beyond the customer and includes providing a sustainable workplace environment and interconnectedness with our providers and our local communities."

In my humble opinion, for a cohesive experience at a place with as much integrity and substance as Ubuntu, you need to pull out all the stops. You can't just try one dish...so, as you'll see below (thanks to Rachel and the fine staff at Ubuntu), we were wined and dined! All in all, there were seven one-plate courses, three desserts, bottomless rustic bread and sea-salted whipped butter, and a perfectly-paired glass of Cremant d'alsace allimant laugner (sparkling rose). Between the three of us, there was not a crumb of any kind left on a plate.

Highlighted courses...

Chickpea romesco with pine nuts and raisins. And my sister, being ridiculous.

Marinated beets with cracked potato, pickled quail eggs, and creme fraiche.

Steam buns stuffed with burrata cheese and coated in smoked dried sunchoke, fried persimmon with smoked sunchoke paste.

Grits with whipped scrambled egg, fake chicken skin (sounds gross, but was SO good...tastes like bacon and is made of yeast), green tomato, and young cilantro.

Mission fig, fermented green fig kimchi with white beans, fried Parmesan reggiano with citrus zest, thyme, rosemary, topped with a fried egg.

Kholrabi noodles (made from burning kholrabi down to ash), braised pickled chard, roasted shallots, and midnight moon goat cheese.

And the desserts! Oh my...

Lavender white chocolate cookies with local flash-pasteurized milk.

Smooth chocolate with bay leaf, meringue, huckleberries and house-made vanilla ice cream.

Though it was tempting to lick the plate, we opted to leave Rachel a slightly inappropriate masterpiece with the remaining huckleberry juice.

She appreciated it in her own way, I'm sure...

Other courses (not shown) included green tomato marmalade with smoked sea salt and garlic confit and house-made root beer ice cream.

For me, eating at Ubuntu is not only a multifaceted and delicious culinary adventure, it's also a learning experience that ignites my creativity and passion for food and cooking. If you ever get to Napa, this should top your must-do list!

More: ubuntunapa.com