January 2005 - Aubergine (dt)
7.19 - 7.5, 7.5, 7.5, 7, 7, 7, 7, 7 

“Oh, the dread, the dread,” to paraphrase a line from Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness (see below). After the six of us wrote our secret predictions where we might go, and after meeting in Leeds, off we ventured, guessing where we might be headed at each meaningful intersection. Finally, a turn onto Rt 23 from Hollowville led to a confirmation of Tom’s speculation that we just might be headed to Hillsdale. And, thus, we found our way to Aubergine.
    Upside: For one, the weather was a bunch better than the weekend before, both days of which we cancelled because of the near “blizzard.” Thanks, Tim & Judy, for the calls for reservations.
   What a bunch of scaredy-cats were were! Although Aubergine has received quality reviews by the food critics, some of our informal reviews were less than unanimous, to put it nicely. We had strong misgivings, based on these reports, and this writer was told of strong whining in the other car on the way there. Ultimately, however, we were exquisitely surprised.
   The entrance was a greens-balustraded archway ushering us into a modest anteroom where our coats were taken. We were led to our room, one of the several tastefully decorated and warm rooms. Period wallpaper, wall hangings and paintings, dimmed lights, large entryways, exposed bricks, tasteful dishery, etc., all created an atmosphere that has been equaled in only a very few other places visited by DP8.
     It was a quiet Sunday evening so the room was ours, with conversation heard as if it were home, despite the four by four arrangement.
   Two bottles of Bandia a Coltibuono Classico Chianti kept us in business for the evening, with Judy having her Pinot Grigio equivalent.
   A bread basket came out first, and some of us were careful not to eat too much – especially after Ken’s firehouse breakfast and hors d’oeuvres at the Adamses. The “starters” were perhaps the most interesting part of the menu. The Caesar salad was ample and delicious, as were the pate plate, the scallops and walnuts, and the chicken sausage roll pastry on a bed of red cabbage with turnips. In classic DP8 style, we tasted a little of everyone else’s if we so desired. The chef prepared an extra sausage roll for us too, one of the extra touches that distinguished Aubergine this evening.
   Main courses were not as numerous as other restaurants but seemingly adequate for DP8. Four ribeye steaks were prepared just as ordered, and reasonably ample. Tim had the lamb stew which he found to be quite satisfactory. The venison and cod dishes were somewhat small-portioned although just the right amount for the people ordering.
   The silverware was faced down, with clean quality linen. The service by Heidi was proficient, especially with crisp recommendations that we asked of her. Ken kept our waitboy busy with at least eight trips to fill the coffee cup. The arrival of all the appetizers, and then all eight entrées in their time, was achieved within seconds, a feat seldom accomplished in other restaurants, and was appreciated.
   Dessert meant three soufflés (prepared ahead of time), pot de crème, an apple crostata, a praline semi-fredda, and a Sambucca. The soufflés were deemed very good but a notch below the best found in the other few places making such an offering , the pot de crème was rich, smooth, and seriously chocolate, and the praline encrusted too tightly on the plate for Tim’s liking.
     Overall, this dining experience was one of the three or four best encountered by DP8. Perhaps, we caught an unlikely quiet night but we felt as if the staff was ours, with the visit from the chef noted by all later.
   A quick stroll through the other rooms gave us a chance to fantasize about our placement on a return visit, and we all enjoyed the layout of the bar.
    Down side The down sides were very few and somewhat subjective. The portion size of the cod and venison was deemed small but the diners of these meals were satisfied because of the size of the appetizers.
   .... The bill was as hefty as we had been warned, just slightly less than The Bears of last year.
   A 45 minute drive back home was endured but accepted as the price of dining in January.

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