Dinner – Thursday, August 6, 2020

And so the state’s shelter-in-place order carries on interminably. In search of a way to take a break as responsibly as possible (and trying to support our friends), we skipped down the coast for a one-night stay at L’Auberge Carmel. Of course, the purpose was to dine at Aubergine, which we last visited around Christmas – amazing how 8 months of this year have passed us by while everyone sleepwalked through this pandemic.

The hotel is fortunate to have a bucolic courtyard, which allows the restaurant to serve just about as many guests as they used to in the dining room. Indeed, we enjoyed the outdoor environment more than the indoor setting, which is constrained by the age of the building. The team hasn’t skipped a beat, and the tasting menu experience was perfectly intact, as you will see from the ensuing photos.

Spinach, artichoke, white anchovy, bee pollen

Pacific Gold oysters
Seaweed-corn cream, Kaluga caviar, parsley, sea grapes

Tempura squash blossom, Maine lobster
Egg yolk, chicken wing garum, chives

Perfectly fried, with a thin, crisp outer shell – the ideal summer patio snack. I could’ve had a few more of these with a chilled glass of bubbly (or a cold brew). The yolky, salty dipping sauce was just as addictive, and we not-so-secretly slurped it up.

Summer fruits
Smoked trout roe, cultured cream, yuzu

A great expression of summer on a plate – each item, from the tomatoes, to the melon, to the cucumber, to the raspberry, was intensely flavourful. Minimalistic and delicious.

Foie gras
Pluot, chicken jus, truffles, red sorrel

Monterey Bay abalone
Black lime-citron vinaigrette, local seaweed

Four-year-old abalone from the nearby bay, served over a custard of abalone liver and smoked ham. I’ve missed this product and the kitchen treats it so well.

Shiro dashi, wild Alaskan halibut
Fava beans, garlic chives, brioche

The newest iteration of the kitchen’s signature shiro dashi course was served with a tender, flaky slab of halibut – its relatively neutral flavour was a fantastic canvas for the sauce. To sop up every last bit of the shiro dashi, we were provided brioche buns baked in an abalone shell – beautiful and delicious.

Rohan duck
Roasted peach, spiced peach jus, shaved cashews

Beef, daikon and matsutake consommé

Triple-seared A5 wagyu
Corn pudding, chanterelles, black truffle

Cheese service

Yogurt panna cotta
Nectarines, blueberries, rose geranium, oatmeal streusel

Refreshing and light, apropos to the summery outdoor setting. The tanginess of the yogurt (and the nectarines, which I believe had a light pickling) were very welcome, and the floral rose geranium was a classic match.

Chocolate in various forms, black truffle ice cream

Milk chocolate bonbons
Pistachio-strawberry financiers, raspberry pate de fruit

As always, we found our meal to be a strong turnout – judging by the reaction of diners around us, there was hearty agreement. Perhaps my age is showing, but I really appreciate how the Aubergine team continually refines its mastery of certain ingredients (e.g. the abalone, shiro dashi and beef courses) over a period of years. Rather than flitting to the hottest new thing, their approach is carefully considered and we’ve had the luxury of watching this evolution in real-time. This might have been one of, if not the longest gap between our visits to the restaurant, and we’ll try to make sure it stays that way!


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