From the moment you enter Aubergine, all your senses tell you that this is a remarkable restaurant. Luxe tones of blues in swirling, oceanic waves create a coastal atmosphere as you as are greeted warmly by restaurant staff and shown to your table.
It’s just the first step on a journey to a dining experience like no other.
Aubergine offers an eight-course tasting menu that is constantly changing, according to what seasonal ingredients are available and what inspires executive chef Justin Cogley on any given day. Sometimes that inspiration comes from plants that he glimpses on his daily runs, while others come from the local bounty of the Monterey Bay and Salinas Valley.
Aubergine is the crown jewel of L’Auberge Carmel—a full-service luxury hotel in Carmel-by-the-Sea with 20 rooms and a 4,500-bottle collection in its wine cellar. The hotel is part of Relais & Châteaux, an exclusive collection of 500 charming hotels and gourmet restaurants in 60 countries. These hoteliers and Grands Chefs are committed to giving their guests an unforgettable celebration of the senses.
The L’Auberge building was originally built in 1929 by Allen Knight, who envisioned a European-style apartment complex there, and hired well-known San Francisco architect Albert Farr to design it. Previously known as The Sundial, it was purchased by Mirabel Hotel & Restaurant Group in 2002, and renovated and reopened as L’Auberge in 2004.
“My vision was that Carmel needed a small boutique hotel with a fine dining restaurant,” says Mirabel CEO David Fink, who describes what Aubergine provides as “high-touch service.” This means that diners are provided with personalized and attentive service during the entire meal, start to finish.
The Forbes Five-Star restaurant features specially made tableware with a natural environmental style that complements each tasting course, and the courses themselves are small marvels, each with layered and subtle flavors that reveal themselves as they are savored.
Cogley selects from among a palette of intriguing ingredients, with each dish carefully prepared and beautifully presented. One summer evening the eight-course tasting menu, which is offered for $150, included red abalone and seaweed resting on an herb puree, and smoked trout roe topping a mixture of fava beans, roasted corn, and tiny potatoes.
Executive pastry chef Yulanda Santos contributes highly imaginative and delicious dessert courses to the tasting experience.
The award-winning culinary team at Aubergine has been recognized in the industry as being among the best in the world, with chef Cogley earning the title of Relais & Châteaux Grand Chef in 2013, as well as Best New Chef by Food & Wine magazine. In 2015 and 2016, the restaurant was nominated for James Beard Foundation awards for Best Chef-West and Outstanding Service.
Aubergine is a dining destination for travelers, but also makes itself accessible to the Monterey Peninsula community by offering cooking classes with chefs Cogley and Santos in the restaurant’s kitchen. Upcoming class topics include Chocolate, Sauce Boot Camp, Healthy Thanksgiving, Holiday Cookies and Holiday Dinner Party. Participants cook under the chefs’ direction and then sit down to enjoy what they’ve made.
In addition, Aubergine’s special Redefining Flavors Dinner Series is a wonderfully crafted two-hour, three-course tasting experience. Rather than compromising the standard eight-course tasting, the Redefining Flavor Series, which is offered at $115 including wine pairings, is designed to deliver guests a fresh look on flavor and fine dining.
Despite all the awards and accolades, CEO David Fink says that Aubergine does not rest on its laurels.
“Our business is extremely humble,” says Fink, who notes that it’s great to win awards, but it does not distract from the restaurant’s mission “to take great care of our guests.”
Kathryn McKenzie, who grew up in Santa Cruz and now lives on a Christmas
tree farm in north Monterey County, writes about sustainable living,
home design and health for numerous publications and websites.