Aubergine

Dinner – Friday, April 1, 2016

When we planned our trip down the coast, we didn’t realize it would occur over the weekend of the Pebble Beach Food & Wine Festival. While we shy away from such events (crowds are not our thing), we were worried that our favourite restaurant in the area would be swarmed – as it turns out, it was a relatively quiet night at Aubergine.

Kumamoto oyster, caviar, seaweed gelee

Tuna, citrus, ogo
The otoro swam in a broth of citrus and galangal – fantastically aromatic, and light enough to balance the fattiness of the fish.

English peas, mint, shiro dashi
My favourite dish of the night – this was exploding with umami. The peas, together with sea lettuce and sorrel, were dressed in a shiro dashi butter emulsion. The key was the restrained use of mint – just enough to light up the tastebuds every few bites.

Maine lobster
Radish, dulse, caviar, whey sauce

Asparagus, oyster leaf, oyster emulsion, hazelnut
Hidden beneath the asparagus was a tender blonde morel, and a delicate slice of pickled elephant garlic – the latter really brought this dish up a notch.

Grilled Monterey Bay abalone, lettuce, roasted green tea
In the back, we were served toothsome slices of abalone mushroom dressed in abalone liver sauce – clever and delicious. Another accompaniment was the DIY pour-over of mushroom tea – a surprisingly delicate addition.

Roasted milk-fed pork, its crispy skin
Pickled carrots, saffron onions, honey gastrique

Hokkaido wagyu and dry-aged ribeye
Salt-baked leek, caramelized onion puree

I love side-by-side comparisons. Here, it was a stark contrast between the melting but mild-tasting A5 wagyu, and the firmer, beefier American beef – but both have their merits. A highlight of this course were the few plump, pickled golden raisins – they brought a unique sweetness that accented the flavours of the alliums.

Cheese service
As in the past, we noticed a number of dependable Andante Dairy cheeses, but a special treat tonight was an extra-aged Mimolette – one of my favourites. This, and the slices of house-made hoshigaki, were a match made in heaven.

Lemon parfait, poppy seed, cookie butter

Cucumber ice, huckleberry, white chocolate
Creamy, cold, refreshing, texturally diverse – and importantly, not too sweet. This was a prototypical example of the type of desserts we both enjoy, and Ron Mendoza is a master of them.

Parsnip ice cream, candied parsnips
Hazelnut, milk chocolate, Fernet Branca meringue

Kefir lime profiteroles, coconut-passionfruit rocks

The menu has condensed significantly – our dinner sported the fewest courses we’ve had at the restaurant yet. Gone are the little shots of flavored soda that have kicked off every previous meal. Up front, the smaller bites have also been truncated – by the third course, we found ourselves in the thick of things. The flow of the meal, from vegetables to shellfish to meat, has become more linear.

Perhaps our dinner tonight is a reflection of how Aubergine is grappling with its growing stature in the culinary world. Our progression had a higher hit rate of excellent (and more composed) dishes – a concise report, putting the kitchen’s best foot forward for guests. But, being well versed with the kitchen’s style as we are, I will miss the meandering and asides allowed by a longer degustation – the off-the-cuff cooking that provides further insight into the chefs’ ideas. I, for one, would champion imperfection.

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