Jack Thorpe wrote, “A cowboy’s life is a royal life, his saddle his kingly throne”.  That was the introduction that set the tone for my good ‘ol fashion western dinner at Cowboy Star restaurant in svelte downtown San Diego.

There is such a huge resurgence of energy in downtown San Diego these days!

Round up an appetite at the Cowboy Star.

Anchored by stunning Petco Park (San Diego Padres Major League Baseball stadium) and it’s chic Gaslamp District, it is evident that downtown San Diego is a place to be any night of the week.  There has been much hustle and bustle of residential and commercial building over the last ten years within the city center and the Cowboy Star restaurant is another product of the gentrification of downtown San Diego.

Cowboy Star’s owner and General Manager, Jon Weber planned and executed this new San Diego concept restaurant in the neighborhood known as the “East Village” along with his partner and Executive Chef, Victor Jimenez. 

Pour a pint with the pards
in the Cowboy Star saloon.

What originally drew me to try Cowboy Star were friends and colleagues speaking of this “Amazing Bison Burger” that they have on their menu.  This western-style eatery is equipped with its own butcher shop and it is quickly becoming quite the neighborhood staple.

The butcher shop prides itself on its many grain and grass fed hand cut prime meats and specialized seasonings.  It is unique in the fact that it is one of the only places in the city that you can leave with a fresh cut of the exact same meat that you gorged on in the restaurant and take it home for your own cowboy-style grilling.  Talk about taking the cowboy way home!

Diners are initially greeted by a life-size picture of Gene Autry, and embraced by the warm wooden walls and open beam ceiling.  Other photographic artwork lined the perimeter of the main dining room bringing a strong sense of past nostalgia. Perpendicular to the cozy dining room, the bar seating stares right into the open kitchen, the open flames, and the engaged Cowboy Star staff!  There is also a glowing fireplace to set the mood of an old western campfire.

Bison is braised to perfection.

There was a low roar of conversation floating through the room.  Pieces of conversation could be snatched from thin air as we sat.  Some of it was quite hilarious!  I love it when the customer is convinced that they are more educated than the staff of any given establishment.

There was a large party sitting next to our table in the cozy campfire confines.  One member of the party was schooling his tablemates on the ways of western cowboy fare.  “I could bet money that this is corn fed beef and not the bison I ordered!” he said.  My companion and I traded smiles and stifled our laughter during his rant. 

The courteous waiter kindly offered to bring him another piece of meat (which oddly enough looked the same as the first) without any questions or display of disbelief.  After they departed, we reconfirmed his entrée with our waiter, for fun of course! Bison confirmed.  Now, how about that money buddy?

Warm yourself up with
the Orange Blossom Special.

I loved the creative drink menu and the wine list had some solid contemporary selections.  What real cowboy or cowgirl doesn’t like a good ‘ol stiff drink? (I am going to juice the opportunity to use ‘ol in this story as much as possible.)

If I was going to eat like a cowboy I was going to drink like one as well!  I figured that the right drink to complement the medley of meats I was about to indulge in must contain whiskey.

Per our waiter’s recommendation, I bravely selected the Orange Blossom Special, one of their specialty drinks.  Infused with a hint of Orange Blossom, tangerine and at a good long pour of Maker’s Mark, the first sip warmed me up from the winter chill and left a tingle on my tongue.

Other options on their specialty drink menu are the Vodka infused, Wagon Wheel Gimlet and the Lemon and Gin, Sagebrush.

We tried the razor thin sliced Boar Carpaccio.  The complement of the greens on top minimized the slight gamey taste of the rare boar. The buttermilk sweetbreads (yes, I actually ate the thymus gland of a cow and that is in fact what sweetbreads are) were the most tender, melt in your mouth, piece of meat I have ever tasted.  The waiter mentioned that a guest had deemed them as the best chicken nugget they have ever tasted, and I think that would be a fair assessment.

Vibrant use of colors in
the Heirloom Tomato Salad.

The Heirloom Tomato salad with gooseberries was a nice light salad choice prior to the main event.  The addition of the bright yellow gooseberries with their leaves intact was a brilliant pop of color balancing the vivid green of the lettuce and the red of the tomatoes.

Cowboy Star uses fine, fresh and organic ingredients that are purchased as much as possible from local farms which embrace sustainable farming practices.  The meats served at Cowboy Star do not all come from one generic butcher.  Quite the contrary, Jon and his counterpart hand select these items based on their desire to have the best ingredients and the best experience for their customers.

Their meat comes from such far flung places as Argentina and Wyoming.  They have selected each of these ranches based on quality and farming practices.  Their meats are also Certified Humane, which means in easiest terms, care and compassion is taken into consideration during the raising and preparing process of the livestock.

With the selection of various beef, quail, lamb, bison it was hard to choose what to order for my entrée.  I finally settled on the 14 oz cut of Bison.  I heard so much about its tender qualities (especially from the guy that owes money from the next table over).  I finished my Orange Blossom and the entrées were graciously placed on the table in front of us by our competent waiter.

I could tell that the Bison was different, just in the texture, as I easily cut through it.  It didn’t have the normal marbling that you would see in a ribeye, however there was a layer of fat that ran along the outside.  This seems to keep the flavor and the juices in, while allowing the meat itself to remain lean.  My first bite was delicious and tender; perfectly seasoned, it did taste very similar to beef.  The dishes are accompanied by different seasonal vegetables and I was lucky enough to have Brussel sprouts sautéed with bacon — delicious!

Cowboy Star's version
of the classic Smores.

Dessert offered quite a few choices, many of them the usual quintessential decadent treats.  Since we were all about living like a cowboy for the night, we settled on Cowboy Star’s version of the classic Smores!  The presentation was clean and centered on a simple white plate.  It was easier to eat than your typical gooey campfire smores so these smores could be shared and eaten with a fork!  It almost looked like a giant layered cookie.  Chocolate oozed over a marshmallow cloud set atop a delicious cookie crust that must have been contrived from a healthy pat of butter or two and graham crackers.  The cookie crust, although hard to cut, was by far the best part.

Cowboy Star Restaurant
640 Tenth Ave.
San Diego, CA

(Located on 10th between
G St and Market Street.)
The Cowboy Star Menu.

Cowboy Star is rapidly gaining popularity in the short time it has been open. It is easy to see why.  With the no nonsense American cuisine and the hospitable yet casual service, I had an enjoyable evening.  I did leave thinking that I might have to go back and  try that Bison burger.  I heard so much about it and it is only on their lunch menu.  My palate was on overload with all of the game that I tried that evening.  The easiest way to sum it up; you can’t beat food that is cooked on an open flame, and Cowboy Star did just that.

Feature by Michelle Schoser, San Diego Jetsetters Magazine Correspondent.

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