best thing i ate last week: abalone at Aubergine + Alter dinner
A few months ago during a west coast jaunt, I had a really outstanding meal at Aubergine, Justin Cogley's restaurant in L'Auberge Carmel. One of the most interesting things was that in moments it could be hyper-local, while in others its makes (very good) use of product from literally clear across the globe. On the one hand, there's abalone farmed in Monterey Bay waters about five miles from the restaurant. On the other, there's densely marbled A5 wagyu beef from Hokkaido, Japan, about 5,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean.
Cogley brought both items with him when he came to do a collaboration dinner with Bradley Kilgore at his Wynwood restaurant, Alter. The good news is, they travel well. My favorite was the abalone: cooked so its flesh is springy but not tough, with a pure taste of the sea. Garnished with Carmel seaweeds and wispy lettuces, it swims in a sort of warm tea steeped with dried mushrooms, offering the depth and clarity of flavor of a well-made dashi. The dish was every bit as good as I recall it being in situ.
Honorable mentions to Brad's dish of venus clams with oseta caviar and potatoes over a yogurt purée, garnished with paper-like sheets of slow-cooked onion; to an outstanding dessert from Aubergine pastry chef Ron Mendoza which combined a candy cap mushroom mousse with fermented banana and shards of crisp chocolate; and to the plump, juicy pork shu mai at a late Saturday afternoon lunch at BlackBrick.