Carmel's Aubergine Earns Number Five Zagat Ranking, Beating Out Slanted Door, Chez Panisse
September 20, 2011
First our coastline stole their hearts.
Then our sharks and otters stole their imagination.
Now one of our finest restaurants has stolen a lofty honor they normally call theirs.
OK, steal isn’t the most precise term ever, because the just-bestowed Top 5 Zagat honor was certainly earned by tiny Aubergine (624-8578), which bested thousands of Bay Area and Napa restaurants like Chez Panisse, La Folie and the Restaurant at Meadowood in the rankings’ 2012 edition.
But Aubergine did go from unranked to that lofty spot. That doesn't happen too often.
Only (from first to fourth) Gary Danko, The French Laundry, Cyrus and Manresa scored better.
I went a few months ago to see what alchemy Chef Justin Cogley, pastry kingpin Ron Mendoza and Wine Director Thomas Perez were crafting. To this day I have a hard time articulating the creativity, elegance and excitement of a meal that began with a simple grid of words like “lobster,” “avocado” and “bull’s blood.”
But that didn’t stop me from trying, with a piece called "New Chef at Aubergine, Justin Cogley, Delivers Big."
Here's a taste of what I wrote then, and what has Zagat nodding and Napa and S.F. plotting revenge:
When a colleague overheard me marveling at the meal, he asked me what kind of food it was. I told him that it doesn’t really work like that. I described the abalone dish instead. “O....K,” he replied. The very alignment of the “spontaneous chef’s tasting menu” ($125) hints at the unique wonder to come: There are no courses listed, only a four-by-four grid of 16 elements—oyster and abalone, maple and Maine lobster, bull’s blood and blood orange—that ready the palate for unprecedented partnerships designed, in the wildly understated parlance of Cogley, “to enhance one another.” (There’s also a four-course for $89; both can come with sommelier Thomas Perez’s impeccable wine pairings for $$110 and $75, respectively.) The idea is to leverage the powers of chef creativity and customer intrigue. “There will always be those who look only at technique, who ask how,” reads a quote on one of the menus from photographer Man Ray, “while others of a more curious nature will ask why, personally, I have always preferred inspiration to information.”
Make that two of us. At least.