Aubergine, Carmel

After my second meal visiting Aubergine (the first was a few years ago), the thought occurred to me that the restaurant hasn’t changed that much.As I recall, my first dinner at the Carmel institution was impressive in imagination and composition, but fell short on flavors – either they weren’t potent enough or the combinations weren’t successful.

So when my friend and I pulled up to the familiar white stone building, I was excited to see if Aubergine was any better than I’d remembered.

What a lovely, inspiring quote!
….riiiiiight.

I love this quote. I love love love it. But in the context of a meal?

I sure as hell hope that the chef prepares meals that he knows, even if it was a few hours prior.

Our welcome treat were an indication that he knew what he was doing.

If it comes in a shot glass, it’s probably good.

Persimmon juice with oolong tea (topped up with soda water) tasted faintly of sweet fruit and earthy tea. What a charming start to dinner!

aubergine_03
There’s an oyster under there, I promise.

If you know me, you know that I love oysters for an amuse bouche. This one, with cucumber sauce and yuzu foam, felt luxurious and refreshing.

I broke this bread so hard.

I once was a bread and butter fiend. I’d even included the quality of the bread and butter in my evaluation of a restaurant. While it no longer carries any weight, I still enjoy some carbs and give props to kitchens that turn out freshly-baked breads in multiple varieties.

Aubergine one-upped everyone else by not only offering an amazing cheesy brioche, but also serving alongside it the cutest butterball I have ever seen.

Look at how cute and delicious I am!

Fried mussels was the first order of the night. Ordinarily, I would not order a dish in which such a harsh cooking method was used on something as delicate as a mussel, but these were well done. Far from rubbery, these little morsels were interestingly and successfully accompanied by shaved chestnuts, roasted apple, and the slightest hint of lime.

Mmm… I miss this.

Diver scallop, Meyer lemon, nori, and toasted spices with an assist by the cutest scallop “dumplings” ever. If you’ve followed my blog, you’ll know that I have an infatuation with nori crackers. I was so hopeful for this dish, but I was disappointed that the center of the scallops were cold – cold like the flame was way too high and the sides of the scallop were nearly burned before the heat could reach the middle 

Don’t miss this quite as much.

Poor scallop. It deserved better.

Well, this part was okay.

I wasn’t crazy about the heaviness of the lemon sauce. These were all delicate ingredients and should be treated as such, but I liked the idea.

So much WIN.

In an uncharacteristic move, I ordered beef – ribeye, to be specific, with yellow beet, tonka bean, and black garlic.

The meat was tender and juicy and perfect, and I like that extra beet flavor was provided in solid form instead of a sauce. (Will a chunk of oily meat hang on to a thin, water-based sauce? The answer to that, my friends, is no.)

This is how we do it.

Desserts were somewhat unusual.

The lead-in the final course was this palate cleanser.

Guess what this is. (You’ll never guess correctly.)

This pile of white stuff is made up of yuzu ice cream and crème fraîche, and the reddish-brown crumbly stuff below that is gingerbread.

Whoever thought that gingerbread would cleanse a palate instead of overwhelming it with allspice… needs to re-think this.

I didn’t know what nyangbo was… which is exactly why I ordered it!

This dessert was deceptively delicious. Nyangbo cremeux (chocolate cream) was more like a pavé of milk chocolate cream and the marshmallow was covered with a delicious cream. That big curvy wafer is where the sweet potato came in, which cradled the spiced marshmallow and peanut dust.

Another creative presentation.

This was real genius, for which Aubergine deserves mad props!

Doesn’t this look familiar?

Is this a trend now? Dressing food up like natural objects and punishing the diner when she accidentally bites into the wrong object? (I didn’t. I DID NOT.) Tangerine ice cream and cookie crumble encased in a fondant-like coating was a sweet end to a mostly good meal.

It’s not very cohesive with the rest of the meal, but it was good.

Surprise!
Stop amusing my bouche already! SO. FULL.

The atmosphere is unremarkable, the service perfectly adequate. Do keep your voices way down lest you want your neighbor to hear absolutely everything. Most of the tables are a kinda crammed close together, so you may want to request one of the tables in the back facing the front windows of the restaurant.

THE VERDICT:

Located in the charming city of Carmel and a short jaunt away from the beach, Aubergine is a must-try for anyone passing through.

I want so much to love this restaurant, but the quality of the dishes were inconsistent and some of the flavor and texture combinations unsuccessful – in other words, they haven’t changed much in several years. If for nothing else, enjoy and be inspired by the creative combinations and preparations.

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