Inside Napa Valley's Ubuntu Restaurant
It wasn't until Alix and I were about to start our meal that I realized that, more than shame or uncertainty, what I felt most when I contemplated cooking with vegetables was fear. I feared my ignorance and my prejudices, and worse, what my appetites reveal about me. It is not that I get out of bed to devour pints of ice cream in the dark of night but that I am sure nothing simple and fresh will ever satisfy my basic hungers.
Appetizers came. As I nibbled a lavender-dusted almond, I looked down on a plate of asparagus that had been cut into various shapes and separated with pale slices of chèvre and little bright green dimples of nori sauce—which was like a dried-seaweed mayonnaise. The dish was almost too pretty to disturb but too tasty to leave untouched. There was also a plate of sliced radishes in various colors, laid out between little mounds of chopped black mushrooms that Jeremy called "caviar," that tasted less of salt and more of the garden. I took a bite of asparagus, and tried a slice of paper-thin white radish with a little chèvre. The light in the room was gold and pink, my mouth was salt and sweet, and my tongue seemed to have woken up. These were vegetables I recognized, but they tasted like nothing I knew. The flavors were a surprise, a seduction.
"Might not miss the meat too much," I started thinking. I tasted another purple radish. Had I ever had one of these before? I sipped a little wine and tried more of the nori sauce. How was this made? Could I make it at home? It might be worth the trouble to try. I wanted to run my fingertip across each plate, to taste the mushroom caviar with the asparagus or with the heirloom tomatoes salad , fragrant with juniper and basil, that had just been set on our table.
I have always liked beets, and those at Ubuntu came in half a dozen colors, fresh, sweet, with a pleasantly bitter snap, and cut into tiny squares chopped so fine they were a mosaic bed of color and intensity.
"I didn't know beets could taste like this!" I told the woman who brought the plate.
I started daydreaming about coming back for the cauliflower in a cast-iron pot , one of Jeremy's specialties, or the flatbread baked in Ubuntu's stone oven and showered with arugula and truffled Pecorino.