Dinner – Saturday, April 7, 2018
Things seem to be really swinging at the L’Auberge Carmel these days. The Aubergine dining room was refinished with snazzy wooden floors in January, and the hotel’s rooms are in the midst of renovations. In the front-of-house, we saw a number of new faces, and I believe the kitchen is fielding its largest standing team ever. We (unknowingly) visited over Food & Wine weekend at Pebble Beach, so the restaurant was packed. As always though, Justin Cogley, Yulanda Santos, Ki Chung, and the rest of the team delivered a standout meal.
Pacific Gold oyster, caviar, seawater gelee
Soy-glazed Hokkaido uni, fried potato
Yes, this was as good as it looks. One can’t help but compare it to Saison’s uni toast, but the two are so different – less sweetness here, and the fried potato adds a different kind of starchiness to the bite.
Puffed grains, panna cotta, yuzu vinaigrette
At one time a mainstay on the menu, we were saddened when it disappeared, but their panna cotta appears to have been revived in a different form. Superb. Now if only they would bring back their cold foie gras preparations…
Asparagus, roe, yuzu mayonnaise
Inspired by a dish from Atsushi Tanaka (of Paris’ Restaurant AT), this course was pure simplicity. I did feel like a bit of a glutton eating up all that mayo, though.
Steamed Dungeness crab
Spinach, broth of brown butter and crab innards
King salmon in shiro dashi
Braised artichokes, viola petals, cheddar brioche
Monterey Bay abalone
Savoy cabbage, herbs, chicken skin, abalone mushroom miso
I always look forward to how the kitchen will feature their star ingredient, the local Monterey Bay abalone. This was a brilliant version, the abalone having been brushed with soy and grilled before being plated tableside over the sheet of cabbage. Lots of textures and different flavours synergizing – our favourite dish of the night.
BBQ celery root, braised radicchio, root vegetable jus
Rack of lamb
Pebble Beach porcini, nettle pesto, morels, broccolini
I was impressed by the quality of the local mushrooms on the plate – the cooking also intensified their flavour. The lamb was beautifully cooked as well – altogether a very strong meat course.
Mandarin orange popsicle
Poached Gala apple in hibiscus syrup
Bittersweet chocolate, popped sorghum, Medjool date syrup
Pastry chef Yulanda Santos was extremely accommodating of a temporary restriction on sugar – all the desserts we received were less sweet, but no less enticing. This one was a real standout – house-dried hoshigaki on top of a baton of dark chocolate filled with vegan chocolate mousse (whaaat?). We were able to adjust the sweetness to our liking with the date syrup on the side. This should be on their regular menu.
Violet and mint chocolate medallions
I would visit every month or two if I could. I love the sense of familiarity, of eating through the different iterations of the various courses as ingredients come in and out of season, and the menu grows through different forms of inspiration. Aubergine is a comfortable place for us (so much so that even though every meal is blog-worthy, sometimes I just put the camera and pen to rest) and every time we leave, we can’t wait to go back again.