Ubuntu may be a brilliant vegetarian restaurant, but the vegan food is a huge disappointment. I wouldn't mind the pretentious aura and astronomical prices if the chef put any effort whatsoever into accommodating vegan customers. However, it was quite depressing to look at a menu filled with lacto-ovo vegetarian options and realize that only 6 of them were either vegan or able to be adapted for vegans, especially when our server recommended that we choose at least 4-5 dishes to share between the two of us (the menu is tapas-style).
The fact that Ubuntu does not prepare its menu with vegans in mind was abundantly clear throughout the meal. First off, our server brought us butter with our bread, even though we informed him that we are both vegan. Secondly, the chef's amuse bouche consisted of a slice of peach topped with cilantro. We quickly discovered that the non-vegan patrons at the table next to ours had the same amusee bouche with yogurt sauce drizzled on top. Without the sauce, our dish felt a little flat.
This seemed to be the running theme throughout the meal - every dish that was "adaptable for vegans" was adapted by simply leaving out ingredients. Without the truffled pecorino, the Sardinian flatbread was just a crispy cracker topped with spicy greens and carrot soil (yes, there were small clumps of soil on our salad that were there for flavor). The dish wasn't bad, but I had a hard time swallowing the $18 price tag when the most expensive ingredients seemed to have been left out. The same was true for most of our other dishes: they consisted of innovative pairings of vegetables and grains with different herbs and sauces, but the taste was fairly one-dimensional without the dairy. The dishes were good, but they certainly didn't "wow" us. The one exception was the cantaloupe gazpacho, which was intended to be vegan in the first place.
After glancing at a dessert menu that was filled with innovative dishes such as "slow strawberries and torn brioche with basil, served with verbenna-long pepper ice cream and lime curd," I felt too depressed to order the one vegan option - a blueberry sorbet served with chamomile tapioca. As if to further rub in the notion that veganism requires a great deal of sacrifice, our waiter brought us a plate of roasted rhubarb with our check. We watched enviously as the table next to ours received their rhubarb drizzled with white chocolate sauce.
Perhaps the worst part about the evening was that after I shelled out over $100 for our dessert-free, alcohol-free meal (there weren't any cocktails on the menu and neither of us were in the mood for wine, having just come from the Napa vineyards), my date and I were both still hungry. Needless to say, I won't be visiting Ubuntu again unless they make some serious changes.