It’s been open for a couple of years but I had not been to Ubuntu, the vegetarian restaurant in the town of Napa started by Jeremy Fox, a former chef at Manresa, one of the best restaurants in the Bay Area. When I mentioned it to James Laube, who blogged about it more than a year ago, he said only, “Have the pizza.”
O-o-o-o-K. A hotshot chef is making elegant stuff like heirloom beet carpaccio with grapefruit segments, “first asparagus of the season” with asparagus puree, not to mention carrot gnocchi, and he wants me to have a pizza?
I have learned to trust my longtime colleague, however, and he was right. In fact, I have not had a better pizza in the San Francisco Bay Area. Having done a big story on pizza for Wine Spectator last spring, I can say this was one of the best in America.
It was Ubuntu’s riff on a classic margherita, substituting burrata for mozzarella and a few splashes of arugula and basil pesto for the basil leaves. There was also a scattering of very finely chopped black olive. These changes and extras were smart and delicious, but what blew me away was the taste and texture of the thin crust. Very few pizzerias I have found here get that soft, tender feel with just enough crisp on the bottom and the edges. And the crust had vibrant flavor, obviously made from really good flour. There was just enough San Marzano tomato puree and Parmigiano Reggiano to get it all to adhere and add their own flavor as it all caramelized in a hot, wood-fired oven.
Ubuntu also offers an interesting enough wine list for me to have some fun tasting some different wines with the food. Dining alone, I checked out the by-the-glass section, which offered tastes as well as full glasses, so I ordered three. The Reinkeing Sangiovese Napa Valley 2006 ($4 for the 3-ounce taste), with its earthy cherry flavors and smooth texture, did just fine with the pizza but the Downing Family Zinfandel Oakville 2006 ($3) was way too alcoholic and clumsy. Even better, though, was the crisp, tart, taut Etude Pinot Gris Carneros 2007 ($2.50), which had a light level of citrusy pineapple flavor, perfect for the pizza.
The Gris was the go-to wine for the beets, too, but I liked the Sangiovese with the locally milled grits with fried Brussels sprouts and a smoked apple butter made from Ubuntu’s own apple orchard.
I could have made do with the pizza ($16) and a salad, which would have put the tab at about $23 plus wine. For that level of quality, not bad at all.
Wilson Daniels Ltd — Galway, Ireland — March 11, 2009 6:18pm ET
Kathy Marcks Hardesty — Pismo Beach, California — March 12, 2009 4:23pm ET
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