Walking toward Aubergine (pronounced: o-bear-jean) off the single fairway in the Parkcenter Mall is like meandering to airport Gate 52: (Insert exotic locale here). I felt like I was about to board a flight. The sumptuous selections at Aubergine are reminiscent of fare at an upscale international cafe found in many ritzy airports, it's just oddly tucked away in a mall past its prime: How many malls do you know of where church congregations rent a space? There are, however, some positive attributes to its environment.
The seating outside the deli contributes to Aubergine's reputation as a lunch haven for the local business crowd. The soothing sounds of a nearby water sculpture and ceiling skylights create a peaceful atmosphere. And ordering at the counter is much more stress-free without the unrelenting PA badgering of departing flights, especially since the friendly staff at the counter remained friendly while I kept changing my order.
I thought I'd try a little of everything so I opted for a half Toasted Frenchman and half side salad and a massive strawberry lemonade for only $1.50. I couldn't escape without succumbing to the lure of the decadent bread pudding as well. Selecting Gourmet Magazine from their stash of dining-related reads, I settled down to peruse the magazine while waiting with my number until they brought my order.
I forgot about my food until 20 minutes later, which seemed like awhile for a bistro, and so began some investigative sleuthing. I quickly noticed two gentlemen who ordered after me were enjoying their food, so I approached a server with my number and asked the moronic question to be polite, "Am I supposed to bring my number to the counter?"
Obviously not, but she got the hint and returned moments later with my order and a free-sandwich promise handwritten on a restaurant card. The wait was not a tragedy for me, though it would be an inconvenience to many who likewise need to return to work as I did, but the courtesy of a free-sandwich offer reconciled that.
I'll admit I tried the bread pudding first. I know the archaic rule of desserts come last should hold supreme, but it was warm-I couldn't be expected to wait for it to cool? Without being too mushy as many bread puddings are, it was excellent. The half-sandwich was a rather large delicious panini-grilled focaccia laden with smoked black forest ham, Gruyère and dijon. The salad was a complementary melody of spinach, walnuts, cranberries and dressing, and the strawberry lemonade should slate the thirst of many a customer this summer leaving the odd, yet tranquil Parkcenter mall for the blistering Idaho heat.
-Jen Parsons was a chocolate-all-over-the-face sort of cookie thief.