The desserts equaled the entrées in complexity and surprise: We had an intensely creamy white chocolate parfait brightened with Meyer lemon; a vanilla bean cheesecake topped with sour cherries and served in a jar; and roasted strawberries paired with watermelon ice, lime parfait, and edible flowers . Jeremy told me that Deanie's vegan floats (sublime concoctions like the creamsicle sorbet float with hibiscus-beet soda, citrus, and raspberries) are a huge hit with the meat-eating chefs who come to the restaurant. They love them.

Ubuntu's food is to be tasted slowly, remarked on, and tasted again. This is put-your-head-back-and-your-feet-up food, take-your-time-and-close-your-eyes food—and that I understand completely.

Did Ubuntu convert me? Did I go home to throw out all my meat-lover's cookbooks and start growing purple radishes in containers in the backyard? No. What Ubuntu did for me was wash away some of the worst of my guilt and fear, and let me begin to contemplate the idea of cooking a meatless meal without embarrassing myself. I find myself thinking in a new way about vegetables—far less puritanical and more adventuresome. When I see something mysterious and leafy at the farmers' market, I don't back away. I reach for it. I experiment—avoiding the almost tasteless plastic-wrapped vegetables in the supermarket and choosing produce that is new and tender and grown just down the road.

What Ubuntu showcases is an innovative style of cooking that welcomes experimentation and the fresh taste of vegetables not drenched in sauces or set to the side as an afterthought. This cooking slows the meal down. "Don't hurry," these dishes whisper. "Take your time." This food holds you in place like a good yoga stretch, and lets you feel yourself a part of something larger than appetite. Think about what you are eating and where you are. Realize how unique this peppery radish is, how surprising the contrast between three or four kinds of fresh greens.

For someone like me who has always been in a rush, too often late, and far too prone to ignoring what is happening in the moment, it is like a moment of prayer—or a reprise of that old California mantra "Be here now."

Get the recipes for 9 delicious vegetarian dishes from Ubuntu


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