Ubuntu – Is there anything better?

I am getting awfully jaded; every time I visit Ubuntu restaurant, with the exception of the signature cauliflower cast iron pot and the lavender almonds, I am served a varied assortment of new and breathtaking dishes. This weekend’s adventure took place with two girlfriends, both of whom thought we were stopping at a vegetarian restaurant “for a light salad.” I love blowing people’s minds…

We started with all of the “bites:” Castelvetrano olives marinated in mizuna pesto, chickpea fries with herbs and piquillo romesco, and marcona almonds with lavender sugar and sea salt. The chickpea fries were delicate and light – crisp and crunchy on the exterior and light and fluffy on the inside and the pesto concoction on the massive olives reeked of bright freshness.

Thus began the onslaught of delight from Chef Jeremy Fox’s kitchen… First up was a salad of fingerling potatoes, lightly
smoked sauce gribiche, ficoide glaciale, black garlic, capers. The last potato salad I had at Ubuntu was almost a year ago and was made with purple potatoes and the progression of Chef Fox’s skill depicted in a simple potato salad is impressive. I’m not sure if a year ago, their garden was producing the exciting offerings which now show up in the dishes like the bright and crunchy Ficoide Glaciale that is in this potato dish.

Our next offering was a “soup” of winter squash and courgettes served with tomato consommeé (poured after the photo was taken) with avocado cream, miniature tomato “raisins”, squash, and a few dots of concentrated balsamic. This was an elegant combination of so many flavors that melded together so serenely and expressively.

I love the kitchen’s offering of “Today’s Leaves and Things (amaranth, figs, apples, plums, tomatillos, pansies) dressed lightly with regina olive oil, mustard and sea salt. This dish is the perfect example of opulent freshness; served on a paper-thin crisp of brik, the combination of fruits and vegetables juxtaposes the richness of the soup we just consumed by the raw experience of pure freshness.

I don’t have an exact description of the next offering other than it was a melange of carrots to astound the taste-buds… With a hint of vadouvan spices, there were a cluster of large, braised chunks of carrots, quenelles of carrot mousse, delicate spears of fresh carrots from the garden, a bit of carrot foam, and a sprinkling of flower petals. Stylistically, the colors and composition made this one of the most beautiful, Van Gogh-like displays of food I have ever seen. Flavor-wise, one cannot imagine that so many different taste components could be provided by a single ingredient. It was hard for me not to lick the stone tile it was presented on.

The ubiquitous cauliflower in a cast iron pot arrived next and my friends were in a true state at this point. Both had tried to dismiss me ordering this dish as they claimed to “not care for cauliflower,” but impressed as everyone else has ever been with this unctuous, creamy offering.

What came next was beyond revolutionary and revelatory. One of my guests for this lunch was beloved friend, Leisl, whose Scottish heritage has her instilled with a deep and abiding love of lamb and potatoes and blood sausage. Health concerns have brought her to vegetarianism which was why I was so happy to share with her my favorite restaurant. What arrived next was Chef Jeremy’s version of Boudin Noir and there are few words to describe the synchronicity of this particular dish being offered on this day when Leisl was visiting, nor the actual tears of joy she experienced in tasting a vegetarian version of something she had so desperate missed. In a cast iron skillet was a layered confit of root vegetables and onions on top of which sat the “boudin noir” of rice, apples, root vegetables, vinegar and black pepper. As opposed to fake meat masquerading as a sausage, here there was simply a combination of flavors prepared in such a way to give a transcendent offering which when tasted, if one closed their eyes, would not know it was NOT a true blood sausage. Garnished with a quenelle of mashed potato and a poached egg, Leisl had to actually stop the lunch and begged our indulgence while she called her husband to share in the joy. We were all blown away.

Our next offering was a dish that my other guest, Kat, had specifically requested, local polenta finished with corn pudding, padrons, okra, green tomato relish, and amaranth. Creamy and rich, the polenta was studded with kernels of fresh corn and was brightened with the fresh roasted peppers and okra.

Thinking the polenta was rich, we had no comprehension of just how decadent and rich could be until the homemade macaroni and silver mountain white cheddar cheese arrived. Creamy and rich, the pungency of the cheese juxtaposed the creamy goodness on the tongue.

We were going to have them cancel our last course as we were getting beyond full, only to learn it was already fired and on its way; the homemade pizza with sauerkraut, emmenthal, purple mustard, with apples, garlic confit, and caraway all served with a poached egg in the middle. I have never had a sauerkraut pizza before and would never have thought it possible that something so seemingly innocuous could be such a mind-blowing experience. The addition of the poached egg provided a bright sauce to the deep, rich flavors of the kraut.

For the first time, I really had to insist that we couldn’t order dessert. As sad as I was to not have a smidgen of Deenie’s scrumptious offerings, there was quite simply no room left. I have to say that the innovations and offerings coming out of Fox’s kitchen are beyond comprehension to me. Every time I ask if there is a thought of a cookbook and then I wonder how he could possibly have the time; the menu seemingly changes so often that there must be several thousand of dishes in his arsenal now and how he could narrow down to a few hundred for a book would be quite an unenviable task. But, oh, am I ever hoping for one…
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