Archive for May, 2009

Ubuntu (Napa, CA) – Feed Me the Spring

Ubuntu has garnered a lot of acclaim over the past year for its different take on vegetarian fare. The food seemingly takes three tracks, presumably functions of creative desires and financial reality. One is standard, safe vegetarian fare that includes pizzas and pastas – boring 1 – but probably necessary for the business model. A second is the re-creation of meat-like dishes using vegetables. While more interesting than the first, if for no other reason than French Laundry-like irony, that take on vegetables always seemed pointless to me. The real magic, however, can be found in evocative dishes that showcase the Napa seasons. These dishes clearly have Michel Bras etched into their DNA, the countryside on a plate.

Crisp Chickpea & Flowering ROSEMARY sphere – stuffed with romesco

I have made a habit of stopping in quarterly, though blog entries are less frequent, to check out new dishes. Last year, Julot: Ze Blog and I went and he proclaimed it one of the most exciting US restaurants he had visited on his trip. I agreed but it was not in my top tier – it had hints of greatness but often settled for casual comfort-type food. Subsequent meals saw the menu changing, creeping ever so upscale with each return visit, but still fractured between comfort and haute, stuck in a minor identity crisis.

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Urasawa (Los Angeles, CA) – The Spoils of Winter

As vegetables go so goes the sea – there is a season for everything. January at Urasawa brings sperm sac and hairy crab for 10-14 days. It is easy to contort one’s face in a grimace over the former, and I may have reached my limits during this meal, but the latter is sheer joy in Urasawa’s hands – crab meat, eggs, internal organs, and uni – cooked over an habachi. KevinEats says it best – “it’s the pure essence of crab.” Dinner is always special at Urasawa but dropping in during opportune times can lead to more exotic fare than usual.

Two months removed from Tokyo, this was my first sushi, not pictured, on American soil since the trip.1 It was comparable to the better sushi in Japan, falling just a notch below Sushiso Masa. The rice seemed warmer than usual2, to the point that it sometimes warmed the fish. It is also clear that a full ten person bar might be too much for Hiro to handle, as sushi and dishes come at an uneven pace – six or eight has been a perfect-sized crowd in the past.

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Komameya (Kyoto, Japan) – Yuba Tasting Menu

Kyoto was a playground for new cuisine and ideas – purposely spanning the strata of price and styles of dining. It seemed necessary to try tofu in Kyoto where they have purportedly taken the ingredient to an art, despite personal prejudices against what passes for tofu dishes in the US. Serendipity played its usual role and, despite looking for something interesting, I chanced upon Exile Kiss’s review of Komameya – home of the yuba tasting menu. What could be more fascinating than taking the infinitely gratifying textural qualities of yuba and coaxing an entire menu out of their variations?

Komameya (“little bean shop” per Kyoto Foodie) specializes in their own house-made yuba. Like many restaurants in Japan, it is a chain, with three locations throughout Kyoto. Each location offers a la carte or a “kaiseki” (re: tasting) menu. This location (near Karasuma-dori) was casual but it had an under-stated modern elegance – clean geometric lines. The waitress spoke admirable English but your experience may vary. Lunch and dinner are available.

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