It has been quite some time before I was moved to write again about food. Call it overexposure to too much food. Call it taste fatigue. But last week, I call it falling in love.
I fell in love with the color of violet.
I fell in love with the master chefs who were mentors to some of the best local chefs.
I fell in love with Aubergine.
Aubergine is French for eggplant. A vegetable I so love for its flavor and versatility (Smoked eggplant, fried eggplant, sauteed eggplant, cream of eggplant, eggplant Parmigiana, eggcetera, eggcetera), but not one that moms would prescribe for their kids because they hardly have any nutritive value (as of today. Who knows what will be discovered a few years from now?).
Aubergine is a restaurant created by ISCAHM which did not open with much fanfare nor carefully crafted marketing. It promotes itself matter of factly --- a restaurant that showcases the talents of the ISCAHM masters and their wards. Still, a restaurant named as such would catch my attention any time of the day.
So onwards I volunteered to go with our Test Kitchen girls to try out the restaurant just around the corner of our office. I looked forward to what they can do with the aubergines.
Aubergines I found not, but what I tasted more than compensated for my expectations. The moment I went inside this restaurant, I knew I would be back.
I forgot to take pictures of the place, but I like its interiors which was a balance of the old and the new. Vintage, '50s nightclub, and French dining rooms come to mind as I observe my surroundings. I love how they put pizzaz in their open kitchen which did not look like your usual sanitized kitchen (Oh, but it was spic and span nonetheless.).
But let me tell you about the food.
Upon seeing the menu, I wanted to order everything, but I could only suggest. Unfortunately, none of my suggestions were included. I remind myself that this is not my occasion. I am but a volunteer to a learning event for our Test Kitchen.
I liked Aubergine more when we gave our orders. Since this was a tasting experience for us and would be charging this to the company, we had to be discriminating with our spending, but not sacrifice the reason for being there. T did the ordering and told the Captain Waiter that we were splitting all the dishes among the 4 of us (Note that most of the dishes are for single serve.). With hardly batting an eyelash, Captain Waiter even gave his suggestions on how the split the dishes so we will all be satisfied with the orders. I found this very thoughtful and professional.
While waiting for our orders, a waitress approaches us with a bread basket, asking us to choose which bread we wanted (I couldn't remember the options, but I do remember choosing the carrot bread.). I was surprised to be given just one piece instead of having the bread basket on the table, but it was not an issue because the bread was not spectacular nor was the butter, but the basil tapenade (I'm not sure if this is what they call it, but this is how I tasted it.) was quite tasty.
Now comes the Baked Oysters (Php480 for 6 satisfying pieces) which exceeded my expectations! Being an oyster lover, I never like my oysters baked because the ones other restos serve overcook the oysters to rubber and compensate by drowning the oyster morsel in cream or cheese. Aubergine rose to the challenge and offerred oysters that were succulent and warm, with the spinach, bacon, and champagne sauce pushing the delicious oysters to its maximum tastiness instead of distracting your palate to have other tastes. Oooooh.
Up next is the Wild Mushroom Froth (Php240 per order) which didn't excite me when I was reading the menu, but, lo and behold, with my first mouthful, this soup came alive, the linamnam of the mushroom teasing my tastebuds to want more and more of this concoction. I cannot believe that a mushroom soup can taste this good! By the way, did I mention that these are fresh mushroom which have not been drowned in cream? I cannot help but say, Oooooh again. Oooooh.
Pasta was served in the form of the Tagliolini (Php420). It was pasta well done, but not up to my Ooooh-ing. Maybe it doesn't help that I'm not fond of cream sauce when it comes to my pasta.
The next dish is one that I was dreading to taste just because I have tasted one sea bass too many. By now, I should have learned that Aubergine does not do things in the usual way. The Grilled Fillet of Chilean Sea Bass (Php920) was a very good catch (Oh, was that a pun? Hehe.)! You knew it was sea bass, but whoever created this dish knew how to bring out the best in this popular fish. The fish itself was flaky but very tender and, unlike most sea bass dishes, it was not dry nor did its taste separate from the other elements of the dish. Instead, the broth used was almost like the sea bass' juice, tasty, tasty, tasty, making the fish juicy, juicy, juuuuuuicccccyyyyy.
And juicy it went til the French Duck Confit (Php 740). One of the reasons I hesitate ordering duck in European/Continental-style cooking is because it is never as juicy as the way duck is cooked by the Chinese. Once more, Aubergine proves me wrong as the duck was moist, tender, and of the fall-off-the-bone quality.
Finally, we get to the steak. I have this habit of always tasting my dishes prior to mixing it with a condiment or its accompanying sauce. For me, it's a test of good cooking. The Australian Beef Tenderloin Steak (Php1,180) was cooked medium well (I prefer my meat medium rare to rare.). It tasted how steaks taste like in fine dining restaurants, cooked in the right method, but not so tasty. I had to dip it in the green pepper sauce that accompanied it, expecting to just moisten the steak. Boy, was I in for a big surprise when bursts of flavors exploded in my mouth! The combination was nothing short of spectacular. This I find hard to describe. I sought to look for the right word that would describe meaty, fresh, tasty, rightly salted and peppered all in one? How oh how? This I pondered while repeatedly telling my officemates how wonderful the steak tasted with the sauce. My officemates probably decided to give it a try (See, the pepper sauce looked deceptively ordinary.) because I was pestering them on how good it was. I see their faces and see that they agree with me, giving themselves another forkful of steak dipped in that fab sauce. I salivate just remembering it. Ooooh.
I was so satisfied that I didn't even want dessert! Now that is a major breakthrough (On hindsight, I remember not craving for dessert when I was in the throes of Singapore cuisine ecstasy when I was in Singapore. I think if you get that much flavor, you don't need to have sweets to add to what was lacking.). We tried the cakes and pralines (Turns out, we didn't have to order the latter since we were given complimentary samples.), but it was not something to rave about.
A glance at the menu would make you think that it is expensive, but note that ordered 1 of each, sharing them for 4 healthy appetites and we came out of Aubergine full and very, very satisfied. I'd call this great value for every peso spent. I can't wait to go back to Aubergine to try out the other dishes. This time, I will spend for it. I just hope someone writes their menu better. The dish descriptions can bore you to sleep, but the food is all you need to wake every single part of your body.
Aubergine is at 32nd and 5th Building, corner 32nd Street. It's in the building across S&R, where McDonald's is. +632 856 9888. www.aubergine.ph. firstname.lastname@example.org