Let me preface this by saying that I generally reserve my negative feelings about a restaurant and do not feel the urge to make them public; the business is just too hard to have to contend with a barrage of frequently uninformed opinions from self-appointed foodies. HOWEVER: the exception is when a restaurant obviously holds itself in high esteem and displays a certain haughtiness that ends up being wholly undeserved. I think you can see where I am going with this.
A friend of mine was dying to bring my husband and I to Ubuntu as she had eaten there twice and thought I, being vegetarian, would love it. Here's the recap:
We arrived at 8:15 PM on a Friday, about three weeks ago. We were the last reservation for the night. The host neglected to greet us and never reappeared, which is usually a harbinger of a certain overriding FOH attitude (not good). The room was/is great; the music was largely innappropriate (as an unedited Pandora 'station' usually ends up being). We opted for the four-course family-style menu and asked our server that the chef pick out the dishes for us. However, my friend requested that he not send out the 'snake' of microgreens, which she had had before and felt was pretty disappointing. First course was - surprise - the 'snake.' Apparently the chef felt that we were misguided in our reluctance to order this - fine. I'll go with that. However, this is what is was: about a billion tiny microgreens ( a couple days old at most) that had lots of sharp herbaceous flavors, with some verr-ry light spicing. (You cannot dress greens this small in an ordinary way as they would wither immediately.) The result was tedious and un-delicious, a spectacularly un-loveable way to present fresh greens. The 'snake' formation on the plate was sort of ridiculous. The next dish had whole roasted beets that were pickled, with kale beignets and chevre. The beignets were fine, sort of rustic in a hippie-veggie way, but the whole dish was executed so clumsily. The beets, being whole and hard, were difficult to incorporate into the dish; the pickling added an intrusive note. We were also served a chickpea stew, which was rustic and good. By this time (9:00), the food was flying out of the kitchen as we were the last table; we felt rushed. Next course was based on focaccia and had pecorino and various vegetables. It's my experience that certain dishes really give you an insight into the chef, his skill, and that of his kitchen - and this was not good. It was disjointed and ill-conceived - there was absolutely nothing that tied any of the ingredients together. The focaccia was sort of dismal and bready; the greens were stringy and too large, the cheese served no purpose...without talking about the dish, all of us simply stopped eating it. Our still-full plates were cleared away. We finished with a sort of ribollita that was similar to the chickpea stew and was also good, probably the most successful dish of the evening. Dessert: wow, another epic misstep. We were served a porter cake with porter ice cream and 'cheesy corn.' The cake was a dry-ish spice cake. Ice cream was unexceptional. 'Cheesy corn' -- ok, I get that you want to do something unconventional. But to use tough pre-popped cheese corn that is inedible? We left most of this on the plate. Flecks of the 'snake' greens were scattered over every dish, including this one. Hmm.
Total tab before gratuity for the meal for four, which included only two glasses of wine: $280. We tipped the server generously as she was very good, a high point for the restaurant. However, my overall impression was that this restaurant with this chef is middling at best. However, these prices make 'middling' unacceptable. I feel there are serious issues here, and I wonder if the restaurant is aware of them. I would not recommend Ubuntu, sadly, since as a vegetarian I totally commend them for what they are about.
Ubuntu Restaurant & Yoga Studio
1140 Main Street, Napa, CA 94558