Down-Low Diner: Aubergine- The Restaurant at L’Auberge Carmel
If there is one restaurant in Carmel that I have been dying to try it is Aubergine. The high end restaurant located at the elegant L’Auberge Carmel has caught the attention of the best food critics in the business and has received multiple awards from the likes of Zagat and Open Table. Recently Aubergine was even listed on Zagat’s “2012 Top Five Restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area” putting it on the charts with The French Laundry and Gary Danko. With such glowing reviews for its impeccable service, suburb tastes and overall ambiance I just had to see what the buzz was all about.
Lucky for me I had the pleasure to attend their grand re-opening for a special strolling dinner on January 31st. The well-established eatery just underwent a facelift fusing contemporary elements to their existing classic European feel.
When I first arrived I immediately felt as thought had been swept away to France. The three-story European Chateau was inviting and definitely harmonized with Carmel-by-the-Sea’s enchanting vibe. The interior of the restaurant was intimate, charming and cozy, almost as though I was visiting a wealthy friends’ home.
I made my way up the steps to the outdoor courtyard and bee-lined towards the sparkling Cava wine. The Spanish wine, very similar to champagne, had a fruity zing and was a perfect introduction to this magical evening.
Once the bubbles began to kick in it was time to sink my teeth into some mouthwatering beef, Wagyu beef to be exact. This wasn’t your ordinary slice of steak, the Wagyu beef marinated with chili paste and soy was cooked to perfection on petrified coals on the Yakitori grill. The preparation was quite the spectacle as Executive Chef Justin Cogley mastered the flames right on the terrace.
While Chef Cogley was managing the beef another chef was preparing Hawaiian blue prawn with cold pressed sesame oil and white sesame seeds scallops. After a brief stint on the Yakitori grill these fresh shellfish were sprinkled with sea salt and were ready to be devoured. The meaty prawn was extremely satisfying but I made sure to save room for all of the other treats to come.
I retreated to the underground wine cellar which is simply amazing. The hidden gem is located under the main courtyard and houses the restaurants most prized possessions, over 4,500 bottles of vino from the most acclaimed wineries in the world. In this particular room was an array of cheeses waiting to be sampled, the aroma of blue cheese and cheddar had me salivating immediately. The Pt Reyes Blue Cheese and Clothbound Cheddar in particular did not disappoint. Their sharp flavors were paired with a pear jam that gave way to a salty and sweet combination.
Next up was the salon which is the main dining area of Aubergine. The upscale interior design uses natural hues which creates a classy yet comfortable ambiance. The intimate room fits up to twelve guests, perfect for a romantic dinner date or a small gathering.
This particular quarter is where an ambrosial raw bar was calling my name. A display of Kumomoto and Caraquet oysters, chilled Maine lobster, Dungeness crab and Hawaiian big eye Tuna was strategically arranged on the table in the salon. Of course I had to try two of each. I savored every morsel; it’s not every day that you can binge on the freshest, and finest, seafood around. The lobster was cooked to perfection and the buttery meat from the sea melted in my mouth instantly.
As if that wasn’t enough seafood I headed into the kitchen for the roasted monkfish everyone had been raving about. I waited, impatiently, as the chef behind the stove tendered to the delicate specimen; this was clearly his art. He lovingly drizzled a secret sauce over the lightly cooked fish which I quickly destroyed. The lemon and caper emulsion was profound! I am pretty sure I would eat this as a soup if it wouldn’t be frowned upon.
With enough protein to keep me satisfied for a few days I moseyed back into the salon where an embarrassment of sugary sweets had me feeling like I had died and gone to pastry paradise.
Executive Pastry Chef Ron Mendoza is my new hero as his fresh warm donuts, chocolate mousse cake, passion fruit green tea pudding, lemon cream puffs and butterscotch sandwiches flooded the salon. Somehow I had enough room to try them all. Is it wrong that I even asked for thirds?
The absolute showstopper was the coconut sorbet. Not only was the taste out-of-this-world but the presentation was something I had never seen before. The server brought out a bowl of stones and asked if we would like to try the coconut sorbet. I knew I had a glass of wine, or two, but I certainly did not see anything resembling sorbet. Little did I know the coconut sorbet was covered in a granular chocolate coating resembling a smooth rock. I reluctantly bit into the circular creation, hoping not to break a tooth, and found myself grinning from ear to ear. The grainy bits of cocoa made the smooth cool sorbet a delight. My taste buds were thanking the chef for this tantalizing mixture of textures and flavors! This was quite the finale to top off my indulgent night at Aubergine.
Want to check out this once-in-a-lifetime dining experience for yourself? Aubergine serves dinner nightly from 6pm to 9:30pm. Two menu options are available, a four-course dinner for $98 per person and a four-course Chef’s Tasting Menu for $125 per person. Bon Appétit!
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