Written by Jessica Metcalf
Photography: Courtesy Aubergine Private Dining Club
Nestled between bustling coffee joints and boutique shops in the heart of Grandview is Aubergine Private Dining Club. So discreet that you might miss it if you aren't looking, the unmarked purple front door is hidden in plain sight; an exclusive members-only supper club known for exquisite food, great wine, and sophisticated art displays. Notable is the absence of windows, an intentional omission that protects the privacy of diners and events, and ensuring the secret enclave is well-protected for the use of those in the know.
From the second my friends and I set foot into the restaurant, owner and Executive Chef Colin Gregory made us feel completely at home, evoking the feeling of arriving at a close friend’s dinner party. By design, Aubergine has no set menu and reservations are required. As a result, each experience is tailored by the talented team specifically to their guests, allowing creative innovation in the kitchen and a sense of curiosity in the dining room.
Unique and original art frames the finely stocked bar at the front of the restaurant, where we were welcomed – though the club culture is comfortable enough that members sometimes enter in the rear and take a quick jaunt through the kitchen to say hello. Chef Colin, a self-professed “jack-of-all-trades” and former wine sommelier and bartender, curated original drinks for each of us on the spot as he chatted enthusiastically about the history of Aubergine.
Aubergine was launched in 1990 by Spagio founder and acclaimed Chef Hubert Selbert, whose portrait still hangs close to the bar to remind members of the roots that Chef Colin so admirably regards. “Chef represents this cool past that really anchors our future,” explains Chef Colin. “I am the keeper of the story.” Chef Colin brings fresh innovation to a classic, old-school style. While memories of Chef Hubert’s swanky celebrity soirees are appreciated, Colin is respected for his inclusive, modern approach to member services, menu selection, and programming.
When it was time for us to experience the
magic that is a private Aubergine dining experience, Colin led us to a private table in the kitchen – right in the center of the action. There we met Chef Mars, a creator at heart whose strong background in visual art and ceramics translates into her epicurean artistry. Utilizing her prior restaurant experiences and drawing on an attention to detail and eye for design that cannot be taught, Chef Mars has carved a place of her own at Aubergine. Her mindset of “building something up to make it better” is the perfect compliment to Chef Colin’s biochemistry background and scientific approach he takes – the two of them concocting dishes that are imaginative, unexpected, visually pleasing, and nothing short of delicious. Chef Colin is very proud and protective of his people – ensuring respect and appreciation are at the core of every interaction with his crew and their members, fostering an environment in which taking risks is okay and every guest is part of research and development.
As we sat down to a glass of wine, Chef Mars put the finishing touches on their famous lobster roll, one of the few menu items that is frequently repeated because of the high demand. Turning a simple and classic dish on its head is a specialty of the Aubergine team, and this “perfectly weird” twist is no exception. A delicate cannoli consisting of crispy fried Wonder Bread is with a rich, sweet lobster salad and garnished with microgreens from another local treasure, Artisan Growers. The result is nothing short of crave-worthy, leaving no wonder as to why it is requested so frequently.
Next up was a bruised kale salad of Chef Mars’ creation from her time as a private chef for a vegan. Seasonally, greens may come from local growers, or the dedicated kitchen patch planted in the back. But the fresh foods don’t stop with the backyard urban garden. Chef Colin is also a keen forager and provides many exclusive elements to support Chef Mars’ creative repertoire. Depending on the season, each member is left with a cliffhanger feeling of what will be served upon the next visit.
Demonstrating the custom-curated meal experience, the next course was adjusted to accommodate my guest’s pescatarian diet. While I enjoyed a masterfully sous-vide steak, her plate was finished with a beautiful piece of fresh seared fish topped by green tomato salsa. As we enjoyed the next two courses (a unique cauliflower “steak” in tandoori spice and sesame oil followed by a pillow-like gnocchi pasta adorned by crunchy dehydrated garlic and tender oxalis petals from Artisan Growers), our Chefs shared with us their favorites among the vast library of cookbooks housed in the dining room – an ongoing source of inspiration that ranges from the traditional to scientific cooking methods.
Just as we were wondering if we had room for anything more, it was time for dessert. Generous helpings of two luscious desserts were paired with a complex and amazing 81 year-old port – a sampling of the incredible wine cellar. Bananas foster ice cream offered a light alternative to the rich and iconic chocolate espresso crème brûlée with two layers of crystalized sugar (see sophisticatedlivingcolumbus.com/post/auberginerecipe if you’d like to try it at home!)
Armed with our membership applications, we exited through the dining room, stopping to admire the impressive art collection that rounds out this true feast for the senses. We reluctantly said goodnight to our gracious hosts, marveling all the way home about the unparalleled hospitality, distinctive decor, heavenly cuisine, and exceptional experience of Aubergine Private Dining Club.