Aubergine – L’Auberge Carmel

Aubergine Restaurant
Monte Verde at Seventh
Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA, 93921

This meal began brilliantly. We got the chef’s tasting menu with the wine pairing. We were brought an Amuse Bouche that was made with cauliflower and coriander seeds. I hate cauliflower and I ate every bit of this dish. The highlight of the evening for me was the first course, Avocado and Scallop (haas avocado purée, watermelon radish, cucumber gelée, Nantucket Bay scallop ceviche). This was excellent, not at all fishy, the raw scallop was served atop a quite gourmet guacamole. I’m usually not big on gelées but the cucumber had wonderful flavor. The dish was a good balance of creamy-scallop-crunch.

Course two would be hard to mess up. The menu said: Asparagus & Morel (first local green asparagus, chicken oyster, sorrel sabayon, morel “etuvée”). This was all just fancy talk for a very good plate of perfectly cooked asparagus alongside local, blonde morels. A classic combination for a reason, it’s all the flavors of spring to me. The sommelier chose to serve a Grüner Veltliner with it which I thought clashed horribly. I didn’t drink it with the dish so as not to ruin the wonderful flavors I was enjoying.

When the halibut dish came we were told it was topped with porcini, this caused a moment of panic when I noticed the porcini had gills. We had already had a discussion with the waiter about the presence of “Big Sur porcini” on the menu given it was the end of March and porcini season is in November-December. His response was “well it did just rain”… that is not how it works. They never did fess up to the porcinis being (probably) frozen. After we questioned the “gilled porcini” they told us it was a chantrelle. Mushroom mistake aside,the halibut was overcooked and dry and I couldn’t finish it.

Speaking of the porcini dish, that was the veal. We had asked for the meat to be rare. This could have been farther from rare. It was so well done I had trouble cutting it. Poor little baby cow gave up its life for that? Admittedly, I’ve never had veal in my life, maybe it’s supposed to be cooked to the point of greyness?

I hate giving less than stellar reviews. The waitstaff was wonderful, helpful and attentive without being hovering. Given the wad of cash we dropped on this meal I want to have nothing but praise for it. I asked for a copy of the menu, I got one and it was signed by the chef: “Taste is built from memories”…he’s right. Memories are also built from taste and I’ll remember this as a place I may only need to go to for an appetizer (I’d go back for the scallops). I think this dinner was very Carmel: pretty on the outside, presented well, pricey, but lacking depth and flavor.