Eat green at Ubuntu in Napa.
Jeremy Fox is a meat eater whose way with pork brought him accolades when he cooked at the highly regarded Manresa in Los Gatos, Calif. So what’s he doing making pizza with wild nettles, and sunchoke stew with tea-soaked prunes, in the town of Napa? The goal is to help change the way people perceive vegetarian restaurants, says the 31-year-old chef, who refers to Ubuntu
, his new roost, as a “vegetable restaurant.”
In its short life Ubuntu has become one of the most exciting places to eat in the wine country. Truly local, and sometimes unusual, ingredients are part of the draw. Fox maintains a garden about 15 minutes from the restaurant, where he can harvest kale in winter, peas in spring and tomatoes in summer. He also buys vegetables and spices from other nearby gardens.
Ubuntu’s best-selling entrée revolves around cauliflower and arrives in a little cast-iron pot. Fox purees, roasts or leaves raw as many as four shades of the vegetable, which he then layers in the pot and flavors with vadouvan, a French take on Indian curry. The result is a sublime revelation: Cauliflower has a personality! Equally compelling are creamy, cold-smoked grits presented with Brussels sprouts and a barbecue sauce fashioned from beer, apples and smoked vegetables. Like everything else on the menu, this dish is closer to something you’d find in a haute restaurant than a spa.
The thought that goes into the food extends to the interior. “We built as green as possible,” says Fox. Ubuntu’s floor is made from recycled shipping containers, and its tables and chairs are fashioned from reclaimed wood. Look up, to the mezzanine, and you’ll see figures stretching behind translucent glass walls; the restaurant, it turns out, shares space with a yoga studio.
This article has been adapted from the original, which was published in March 2008 by MSP Communications.