Ubuntu- Raising the Bar on Compassion and Ingredients

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Since Valentine’s day fell on a Monday this year, we used it an excuse to finally check out Ubuntu in Napa. We have been meaning to go for the last three years, but always got distracted by the other restaurants in wine country. Anyway, we couldn’t think of a better place than Ubuntu for a romantic Meatless Monday meal. I have to admit, we made reservations only three nights before the big, romantic day and were so happy that we got the only time slot left on Open Table.

In a time of restaurant apps, blogs, and review sites, we walked in with no expectations. I had always wanted to check out this restaurant and I have always heard really positive things about it. Though, contrary to our usual ritual when making a reservation at a new restaurant, we simply booked it. No Yelp, asking friends, or reading up on the gossip. We just wanted to have fun and enjoy a good meal. We didn’t even bother looking up what “Ubuntu” meant, even though I just knew it meant something really good. Satish told me that Ubuntu was a Linux software distribution, so he couldn’t imagine it being the name of a vegetarian restaurant. What I did know was that Ubuntu has it’s own culinary garden, there was a recent chef change, and it had one Michelin star. I even debated leaving my camera at home, but couldn’t go through with that silly idea.

As we walked in, we were surprised to see how large and beautiful the restaurant was. I had always imagined a tiny, funky space with hippies and yogis (not that there is anything wrong with that) with a yoga studio directly above the dining area.  Though, the design is comparable to any of the new, modern restos in San Francisco. The airy space puts you at ease with large, vibrant artwork on stone walls adding warmth. The yoga studio is on the second floor loft directly above the open kitchen. The floor to ceiling window is opaque and overlooks the dining room. There was a class in session  and all you can see are silhouettes of people doing yoga. There were no empty tables, but the noise level was low, making the ambiance perfect for a modern, romantic dinner.

Since we arrived a bit early for our reservation, we got wine at the bar. Their wine list features mostly sustainably farmed wines from around the world. We were served marcona almonds to make up for the wait. They were really good, but a little sweet for a starter and we were really hungry. The micro-green garnish provided a great balance between sweet and savory.

The marcona almonds were delicious, but a tipped on the sweeter side.

We ended up waiting 35 minutes after we our reservation time and it turned out that there was a communication error between the two hostesses. I was a little upset, but the waitress and hostesses were very apologetic, and we did not want that to taint the rest of our night. They comped our wine and brought us a chickpea dish that was not on the menu. The chickpea dish, alone, made up for the miscommunication. This dish had almost every flavor profile I crave. It was meaty, saucy, sweet,  light, spicy, and pretty. It’s the kind of dish that inspires me to be a better cook and explore unfamiliar flavors.

Slow Cooked Chickpeas a la Catalan

The amuse-bouche made up of mushroom stock and green coffee beans was only a teaser of what we had to expect for the rest of our dining experience.

We ordered 3 dishes total for the two of us, even though about 2-3 is recommended per person. We are not big eaters and we already had the macarona almonds, chickpeas, bread, and amuse-bouche. I was almost full, but gladly managed to find more room in my stomach. The menu compromised of local, seasonal produce (as expected), and many of it came from their biodynamic gardens. We ordered a side of the Arbuckle Grits cooked with goat’s milk whey and sharp cheddar cheese ($7), which was decadently rich and amazing. The Garden-Infused Fiore Pasta ($19) was our least favorite dish of the night. We thought it was rather bland. The Rutabaga and Bread ($16) was our favorite dish. It had a medley of citrus, including perfectly crimson blood oranges, a thick citrus-saffron sauce, a moist wedge of bread, and rutabaga. I wish I could eat that everyday. The saffron sauce was just divine; the flavor was sheer perfection. Really, I have no words to describe the sensation I got when I ate that dish. The runner-up was the Little Potato Pillows ($18) and I normally do not like radishes. The potatoes sat on creamy sauerkraut mousse and were adorned with caramelized sauerkraut, black kale, radish giardinieria, including the pretty watermelon radish.

Garden Infused Fiore Pasta

Rutabaga and Bread

Rutabaga and Its Bread

Little Potato Pillows

Little Potato Pillows

After all of that and two more glasses of red wine, we were in a perfect state. Though, we could not pass up dessert. All of the options looked good and we debated between the chocolate brownie ($10) and a dessert made out of celery. Our waitress (Rachel) told us that the celery dessert was really like dessert and not a vegetable dish. Me being me, got the brownie. The micro-greens on the brownie balanced out the sweetness of the candied kumquats. I loved that this dessert wasn’t overpoweringly sweet. Compliments from the kitchen, we also got the celery root dessert. Wow. I don’t even know how to describe it, but Satish liked it over the brownie.

Compressed Chocolate Brownie

The flavors and textures are inventive and we didn’t even miss the meat. My enthusiastic husband just loved every bite. I did too, but my meat-loving sweetheart loved every single bite. He was right, every single bite offered so much good flavor.  At most places, the first five bites really pleases and then your taste buds get used to it, but at Ubuntu, each bite is unique and kept teasing you. And at the last bite, you are sad that it’s all over, but you are equally satisfied and left in a zen-like state.

After our meal, executive chef Aaron London, came over to talk to us. I was surprised to find that he was younger than me and that he is not a strict vegetarian. His food seemed to come from a much more experienced chef. Though, Chef London has been cooking since his teens and has worked at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Au Pied de Cochon, amongst other acclaimed restaurants.

Ubuntu pushes boundaries on not vegetarianism, but the importance of sourcing ingredients. We live in a world, where our eating habits are not sustainable and are damaging to ourselves and the ecosystem.  Ubuntu stands for “an ethic or humanist philosophy focusing on people’s allegiances and relations with each other emphasizing community, sharing and generosity.” Restaurants are leaders for what consumers demand and Ubuntu certainly creates a demand for fresh, local food. Most of us also do not know where our food comes from and Ubuntu does a fine job of reminding you the importance in knowing all aspects of your food. The restaurant takes ingredients to new heights and pushes boundaries on sustainable eating.

I would really like go back during the Spring and late Summer to experience the different seasonal flavors and vegetables. Though, next time I would come in a large group, because there is nothing better than eating good food with great friends!

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Love Drunk Cake

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I saw this cake recipe on Food52.com a few weeks ago and just had to make it. There was something really curious and intriguing about it. How would wine taste baked? Anyway, I finally found the time to make it this weekend, after a really silly, long fight with Satish. So it was an apology cake. I followed the recipe exactly, using a $2 chardonnay from Whole Foods and 100% Spanish olive oil from the Whole Foods brand.

 

It was my first time baking a cake from scratch. (Even though I love sweets, I don’t make desserts. I rather just enjoy them when dining out on occasion.) It was definitely lopsided and I couldn’t frost it like Martha Stewart. Though, it looked charming in my opinion.

I wasn’t really happy with the results, and since I am not an experienced baker, I can’t say what really went wrong. The wine was too overpowering. If I do make this again, I would use a better white wine and maybe less of it. I would also read the comments below the recipe and learn from the tips offered there.

Even though, it wasn’t a professional tasting cake, we still enjoyed it and made up.

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Valentine’s Day

Original from iPhone 4

 

Filtered in Instagram

 

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Brunch for Lovers or Just You: Blood Orange Pancakes

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People either love or hate Valentine’s Day, with very few people oblivious to February 14th’s significance. I had a roller coaster of emotions when it came to V-Day. I loved it for what it stood for- hopeless, romantic, I will do anything for you, fairy-tail kind of love. Of course, V-Day never was that easy as a single girl. I’ve been through my fair share of relationships, but my husband was my first real Valentine. For the first 25 years of my existence, I never seemed to be in a relationship circa Feb 14th. Strange. I am a sucker for the commercialization of the whole thing, and I think a girl should be showered with pretty flowers, chocolates, and gifts. Equally, a man should receive the same thought and affection. I am all for fancy romantic dinners, but the prix-fix menus and price mark-ups annoy me. It also does not feel as special when you know you are in a dining room with 50 other couples who are there just because it’s Valentines Day. So it’s nice to cook a romantic, thoughtful meal at home. It’s also just as nice to cook a special meal for yourself!

Valentine’s Day or Single Awareness Day just so happens to fall on a weekday this year, so a pre-brunch is in order. Nothing is more luxe and seductive as blood oranges. Sure, strawberries are the fruit of love and seduction, but that’s only because no one has looked at blood oranges. Their season is fleeting between the months of January and February. Sometimes, they appear as early as December and last until March. They are mysterious, seductive, and one bite makes you want more. In my opinion, strawberries are played out (and not in season)!

Blood Orange Pancakes
serves 2
Ingredients
1 cup Almond meal
1 cup buckwheat flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
zest of one medium blood orange
1 tsp grated ginger
1 tbsp melted, unsalted butter or 1 tbsp blood orange olive oil
1 egg
1/2 cup whole milk
butter for coating
blood orange compote

1. Combine buckwheat flour, almond meal, baking soda, and salt together in a medium sized mixing bowl and mix well.  In another bowl, whisk together zest, ginger, melted butter, egg, and milk until well combined.

Zest of one blood orange

2.  Add dry ingredients slowly into the wet ingredients. Stir the batter gently as you add in the dry ingredient. The batter should be lumpy and slightly thick. Add a teaspoon of whole milk at a time if batter is too thick.

The batter should be lumpy.

3. Heat a  griddle or heavy bottomed pan to medium-hot, and place 1 tablespoon of butter into it. Let the butter melt before spooning the batter into the pan.

3. Pour 1/4 cup batter onto hot pan. Cook until bubbles break on surface, turn and cook for 1 to 1 1/2 minutes, until browned. Remove from the pan and smear a tiny bit of butter on top. Keep warm by placing the cooked pancakes in the oven, covered loosely with foil.

4. Serve warm with blood orange compote and blood orange juice.

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Blood Orange Compote

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It’s time blood oranges are brought into the culinary spotlight. They are full of vitamins, minerals, folic acids, and antioxidants. Not to mention fiber. They taste like a cross between a very sweet Valencia orange and a grapefruit. The interior is a beautiful, jeweled crimson hue. The anthocyanins in the blood oranges gives them the red color, which are flavonoids. Their season is short, making them all the more desirable. Also, they can used in savory and sweet dishes. Blood oranges have long been used in beauty products and elixirs as well. Also, they happen to be in season during Valentine’s Day. Their color speaks love and romance.

Blood Orange Compote
I use this compote to smear on toast, pancakes and french toast. Bakers can even use this compote as filling for cupcakes and cakes. It’s sweet and slightly tangy.

Try to pick blood oranges with a reddish exterior as well.

Ingredients
3/4 cup water
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar or muscovado sugar
4 blood oranges, peeled and cut into sections, membranes discarded
1/2 cup currants or black raisins
1/2 cup blood orange juice

Method
In a saucepan bring water, maple syrup and sugar to a boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Add in the blood orange juice and blood oranges. Stir well and reduce heat to simmer. Let simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Keep an eye on it to make sure the liquids don’t completely evaporate. Taste the mixture and add in a bit more sugar if it’s not sweet enough. Stir in the currants and cover for 10-15 minutes, until you have a thick, sweet consistency. Transfer to a glass container and refrigerate overnight. Or you can serve it right away.

Stir compote before serving.



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