As someone that’s enthusiastic and totally captivated by the San Francisco dining scene, I’ve eaten at almost every fine dining restaurant in the city. So I thought where should I take Tommaso for his birthday?!
The last two years we’ve gone up north to wine country to celebrate his birthday (SingleThread and The Restaurant at Meadowood) and had a fantastic time. To have a little weekend getaway, I planned a trip down south to the quaint town of Carmel-by-the-Sea. It’s been years since I visited the town and I’ve been wanting to try this fine dining restaurant called Aubergine inside L’Auberge Carmel Hotel.
Aubergine has a similiar ethos to a restaurant we dined at last summer in Mendocino, Harbor House Inn, where the importance of seasonality and locality of ingredients is imperative. Priced at $185 with additional supplements, the daily changing tasting menu at Aubergine showcases the plethora of amazing produce and seafood found along the Monterey coast and the treasures of California.
The dining room at Aubergine is cozy and quaint yet elegant, just like the town. Once settling in, we were greeted with various amuse bouches.
First off was a stunning presentation of fresh Morro Bay oysters with refreshing seawater gelée and briny caviar. Even though all the ingredients had an intnese “sea flavor”, it was somehow balanced.
Following a refreshing amuse bouche, the next one was a bit more unctuous. Creamy foie gras mousse was stuffed inside mini cone-shaped tuilles with a sweet vibrant strawberry sauce and a hint of truffle. Elegant, decadent, and a perfect bite.
Next was a flavor-packed fritter that was reminiscent of broccoli cheddar soup. The crispy exterior had a piping hot filling of creamy broccoli, leek, and ham, which was just superb. The caviar on top was an added bonus.
The last amuse bouche was a perfectly cooked potato latke, crispy and golden brown on the outside but tender in the middle. Hokkaido uni was piled high on the latke and was engulfed with a crazy delicious soy glaze.
Following all the tasty amuse bouches was a cold seafood course. Sweet pieces of tender Dungeness crab meat were nestled under thinly sliced sweet pears. The tangy cultured cream was a nice contrast to the sweet fruit and crab. Lastly, the trout roe added a salty pop that complemented the dish.
A vibrantly colored dish supple sablefish with a sauce made from its bones. The accompanying shiso leaf in the back was tempura fried which added nice texture but the intense shiso flavor was lost when fried.
Who knew a vegetable dish could be so packed with umami?! Thin delicate noodles were actually made from kohlrabi and tossed in a creamy shirodashi butter sauce with broccoli. Homemade brioche rolls were served to accompany the dish to mop up all that addictive sauce, not to be missed.
Monterey abalone, one of my favorite types of seafood, was the star of this dish, as it should be. Impeccably cooked, tender beyond belief, served with a slightly tangy sour umeboshi (Japanese pickled plum) broth with seaweed matcha oil. Delicate yet impactful. Since I don’t eat mushrooms, Tommaso enjoyed the abalone mushroom and said it had a nice meaty quality.
For the main course, we decided to add the additional supplement of Japanese wagyu (go big or go home, right) to compare to the American ribeye. The American ribeye was delicious with silky cauliflower cream and baby cauliflower. However, Japanese wagyu beef is something incomparable. The meat was nicely charred on the grill and the fat is intertwined making it the most luscious deletable flavored beef you’ve ever tasted. It’s something everyone should try at least once.
The buckwheat sourdough bread was probably the weakest dish we had all night. The bread itself was a bit tough, undoubtedly because of the buckwheat flour.
We added the additional supplemental cheese course which was solid but not outstanding. I did appreciate the homemade butter and jams and the refreshing shooters.
To segway into desserts, we started off with a smooth yogurt panna cotta with refreshing, elderberry granita, slices of poached pear, and an airy cranberry foam. The contrast of colors was very festive.
Next was the crepe cake, thin layers of crepe with tangy meyer lemon curd in between the layers. Served with a sweet yet tart mascarpone tangerine sorbet, and fresh mandarin pieces. A nice dessert highlighting winter citrus.
The final dessert course was their “chocolate sand dollar”. A thin veil of chocolate was on top of a chocolate “cake” and warm sea salted caramel was poured on top tableside, melting the veil of chocolate.
Since we were celebrating Tommaso’s birthday, they were kind enough to send out a chocolate mousse cake which he devoured.
Of course no meal would be complete without some homemade mignardises.
The tasting menu at Aubergine was thoughtful where every dish made sense, was aesthetically beautiful, and most importantly tasted delicious. I loved the seafood-driven menu that showcased all the wonderful ingredients found in the surrounding environment. While the food might not be the most innovative, creative, or experimental food that I’ve tried, sometimes it’s better to have a solid tasty meal that might be on the safer side. Therefore my overall rating is an 8-8.5/10.