Aubergine - Carmel, CA

Dinner - Saturday, February 9, 2013

"The buildings have no street addresses here," said Nathaniel Mun├Áz, sommelier and restaurant manager of Aubergine at L'Auberge Carmel. He was referring to the sleepy hamlet of Carmel-by-the-Sea, where many cottages have proper names and mail delivery is nonexistent. When night falls, the quiet village is plunged into an engulfing darkness - naturally, there are no street lights here either (indeed, we drove past the hotel's street twice before finding it).

Such is the setting for the twenty-room L'Auberge Carmel, a beautiful and historic inn, where Justin Cogley and Ron Mendoza just happen to be working magic in the kitchen. On this night, the main dining room was reserved for a private event, so we dined at a lone table in the privacy of the restaurant's wine cellar (making the experience all the more special), where the kitchen served us 22 courses over four hours.

NB: Due to the length of the menu, I have kept descriptions succinct. Suffice to say that no dish was less than good, and a few were exceptional. Wine pairings (on this night, completely from the Old World) were likewise inspired at points.

Coi - San Francisco, CA

Dinner - Friday, February 8, 2013

This was supposed to be a meal at Saison's latest incarnation, but unexpected emergencies forced a weekend closure of their new space. Fortunately, their helpful front-of-house staff rebooked us at Coi for the evening - one can certainly think of worse contingencies.

We were seated in the dining area that occupies their (much-missed) former lounge, a strangely organic mix of dark wood and shag pillows. It is loud - the tables are spaced a little too closely for my linking, but c'est la vie. Choices were minimal - still or sparkling water, and would you like the wine pairing? We placed ourselves in their hands for the 11-course tasting menu. Sweet surrender.