Aubergine's Justin Cogley

Aubergine's Justin Cogley.

Foodies around town and throughout the state have been anxiously awaiting the arrival of the Michelin Guide’s coveted list of stars. The dining guide released its inaugural California guide—the first regional guide in the United States—at a ceremony in Huntington Beach on Monday evening and awarded Carmel’s Aubergine restaurant one Michelin star, a first for the Central Coast.

The guide’s anonymous inspectors were “particularly impressed by the local flavor and seasonality of the menu” from Executive Chef/Director Justin Cogley and Pastry Chef Yulanda Santos. Aubergine, located inside L’Auberge Carmel hotel, was the lone star selection for the Central Coast.

Ahead of the announcement, there was talk about Aubergine as the area’s front-runner for a Michelin star. Previously, the guide’s focus in California was limited to the San Francisco Bay area and nearby wine country, and Manresa in Los Gatos was the southernmost star selection. Locals long lamented that Michelin’s inspectors overlooked the epicurean excellence of Cogley and crew.

This year’s announcement that the guide would expand coverage to the Central Coast, Santa Barbara, Orange County, Los Angeles, San Diego and Sacramento—thanks in large part to a $600,000 contribution from the California tourism bureau—remedied the snubs of years past here and elsewhere by bestowing stars across the state.

A total of 90 restaurants were awarded Michelin stars on Monday evening, June 3. Seven restaurants earned three stars, 14 received two stars and 69 were awarded one star. Michelin’s stars recognize standouts for food and service. A single star indicates “high-quality cooking, worth a stop,” two stars mean “excellent cooking, worth a detour” and three stars—the guide’s highest honor—celebrate “exceptional cuisine worth a special journey.” And yes, the guide has its origins from that Michelin, the tire company. (The restaurant guide was originally created to encourage driving so the company could sell tire replacements.)

Gwendal Poullennec, international director of the Michelin Guide, praised the state’s culinary scene: “California’s trendsetting, laid-back and health-conscious culinary scene continues to boom, and as a result is an amazing showcase for the great local produce.”

Cogley’s signature coastal California cuisine has earned him and the restaurant several accolades beyond the newly minted Michelin star. He was named Food & Wine Best New Chef (2013) and was a Best Chef: West semifinalist for the prestigious James Beard Awards in 2014, 2015 and 2016. Aubergine was also a semifinalist for Outstanding Service in 2015 and 2016.

Dinner at Aubergine features an eight-course chef’s tasting menu (plus an amuse bouche) for $185 with optional wine pairings for an additional $155. Selections change seasonally, with the menu for May highlighting artichokes, local asparagus, morel mushrooms, salmon and more.

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Two events this week will give locals a more affordable opportunity to try the Michelin-starred cuisine from Cogley and Santos.

On Wednesday, June 5, the restaurant hosts its monthly Redefining Flavor dinner offering four courses with wine pairings for $125. This month’s theme is medieval times, featuring grilled oysters, embered cabbage, parsley porridge with sweetbreads, roasted capon (rooster) and sticky toffee date cake. (Reservations required, call 624-8578.)

And on Thursday, June 6, there’s another way to get in on the Aubergine experience: Thursdays in the Courtyard (4-6pm) includes cocktails, wine and beer, plus a la carte small bites. Each beverage purchase includes two complementary oysters from Morro Bay Oyster Company.

Last week, the Michelin Guide released its Bib Gourmand selections that recognize affordable dining options, where diners may enjoy a two-course meal with either dessert or a glass of wine for under $40. Michelin bestowed the Bib Gourmand title on 151 restaurants in California, but just one on the Central Coast nabbed this honor: Yafa, also in Carmel. The Bib Gourmand news came as a bit of a surprise to local foodies and food media, who were expecting more local restaurants would receive Bib Gourmand recognition.

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