The Chef's Tasting at Cowboy Star - San Diego, CA

Dinner - Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Theme name - check. Butcher shop - check. Dedicated steak menu - check. One could easily be forgiven for thinking that Cowboy Star is just another steakhouse - many of the indicators are there, down to the staff's Old West belt buckles. And yet, as we discovered, there is far more than meets the eye.

Executive chef Victor Jimenez and recently-hired second-in-command Chris Osborne (this guy is serious - ex-Townhouse and ex-George's California Modern) have been running a weekday reservations-only tasting menu at the kitchen counter - an opportunity for the kitchen to play, experiment and just cook without restraints.

Aubergine - Carmel, CA

Dinner - Saturday, August 31, 2013

So much can change in six months. Since our meal in February, Justin Cogley (deservedly and expectedly) received one of Food & Wine's Best New Chef awards, putting Aubergine on the map for a whole new segment of diners. Naturally, national recognition brings increased pressure, but the entire restaurant seems to be holding its own, and more.

We had planned a drive along Highway 1 for the Labor Day weekend, and a good meal is always the perfect way to end a long day on the road - what follows is an extended version of Aubergine's tasting menu.