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

Dinner - Sunday, August 24, 2014

Our third tasting menu at The Cowboy Star brought a number of changes, the most significant of which is that Chris Osborne is no longer solely in charge from start to finish. He's relinquished some control, and other cooks are now involved in developing and plating courses.

NB: Lighting, as usual, was challenging, so I apologize in advance for the quality of the photos.

"Concord Cooler"
Concord grape pudding, melon, oyster, Tajin
Quite an unexpected combination, and a smashing success. A shucked oyster (North Point, I believe) pressed against a neon purple grape pudding, topped with frozen melon rind and Tajin seasoning. A bright lemon oil was drizzled over all of this, bridging the sweet and the briny. I definitely did not expect to be wowed by this, but I was.

"Root Candy"
Textures of carrot, blackberry, flaxseed, ricotta, purslane
"Love Note"
Wagyu carpaccio, Granny Smith apple, toasted milk, saltwort
Shavings of A5 wagyu nestled against tart apple slices, garnished with saltwort from the coast. At the center of the tent, a quail egg yolk, ready to burst over its support of toasted, powdered milk (which tasted like a Graham cracker crust). With the garnish of finger lime, this dish walked a fine line between sweet and savoury - excellent.

"Shell Shock"
Brown butter crab, crab gelée, pickled onion, wild celery
"Hawaiian BBQ"
Beef buttercream, rice cake, soy gel, fermented yuzu, fried onions
"Campground Slumber Party"
Guinea hen, fig, corn
Oh my, this dish stole our hearts tonight. Grilled breast of guinea hen, accompanied by the deboned thigh, braised with popcorn. The duo of meats sat atop a dab of corn purée - sweet, silky, luxurious. But, the shards of crispy corn meringue are what really made the dish - the closest analog I can think of are sweet prawn crackers, but so much better. Well conceived, very nicely executed - a standout.

"Liquid Smoke"
Chickpeas, bacon, tamarind, bonito, preserved lemon
I have a huge weakness for fresh chickpeas. These freshly shucked specimens swam in a warm consommé of bacon, tamarind and bonito - liquid smoke, indeed. Crystals of smoked salt pushed the boundary further, but the preserved lemon kept everything just in check. Great contrasts.

"A Gift from the Kitchen"
Levain, foie gras butter
"Parisian in Tokyo"
Yakitori wagyu, sauce hussarde, pickled salad
Wagyu strip, slowly grilled over a shichirin, absorbing the wonderful smoke as we watched intently. Kyoto-style pickles of carrot and watermelon radish on the side, to balance the richness of the meat. And as a base, a classic sauce hussarde, horseradish and prosciutto included - Escoffier would have been proud.

"Ice Cream Truck"
Cherry pineapple sherbet, white chocolate, dehydrated pineapple
Sweet tea granita, oat brittle, mint, lemon curd
Our final dessert was not named - a spontaneous gift from the kitchen. Nectarine sorbet, melting and melding with a sweet tea granita - an age-old pairing. A warming oat brittle lent texture and earthiness to complement the colder ingredients. A perfect finisher.

The end result of more hands - a tasting menu that trades some cohesiveness for a more free-wheeling, whimsical approach. I particularly enjoyed the offerings from the chef who has taken over dessert duties, though I suspect I don't follow all her cultural references. At $150 per person, this was not a cheap meal, but it's nice to see (and support) cooking of this level in San Diego. We anticipate a return in the colder months, when game will make an appearance on the menu.

Cowboy Star
640 10th Ave.
San Diego, CA 92101
Phone: (619) 450-5880