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Wine in The Wild West


The Cowboy Star exterior.
Photo by Ron Donoho

I’ve never seen a horse hitched out front. But Cowboy Star Restaurant and Butcher Shop gets high marks for all-around authenticity. An outdoor patio holds iron chairs shaped like saddles. The interior of this upscale, themed East Village eatery has red brick walls, exposed-beam ceilings, photos of classic cowboy actors, cowhide chairs in the bar and cowboy hats hanging on wall hooks.

Then there’s the soundtrack. Nuthin’ gets played that ain’t cowpoke-worthy. Johnny Cash. Hank Williams. If’n ya can’t rightly holler “Ye-haa!” before, during or after the song, you ain’t gonna hear it.

Thursday night, I came out on the range (where the deer and the antelope get eaten) for the first-ever Chef & Wine Showdown. The kitchen’s three chefs collectively produced four courses paired with a total of eight wines (two wines per course). We were told the job of each diner was to pick the wine that went best with the food. And then we were going to pick the best overall course pairing. Everybody was given a menu with room for taking notes, and pens.

The first course was co-produced by executive chef Victor Jiminez, sous chef Wade Yoder and grill chef Gabe Bonis. It was a crispy Dungeness crab cake, with grilled treviso and horseradish vinaigrette. Everyone’s two wine glasses were filled with Robert Mondavi Reserve Chardonay 2006 and Franciscan Cuvee Sauvage 2006.

My tablemates took judging duty very seriously. We even called our waiter over to make sure he’d poured correctly. The waiter patiently explained that he did in fact know his right from left—very important for tonight—and had not led us astray. We all agreed the pitted-fruity Mondavi was better than the yeasty Franciscan. No brawls among the judges—yet.

The last three courses were each prepared by a different chef. You weren’t supposed to know which chef did which—but the waiter told us, anyway. Jimenez created braised rabbit legs, with sweet potatoes, celery root and thyme-infused rabbit sauce (who knew there was such a thing?). Yoder crafted a seared wild boar loin over golden raisin Israeli cous-cous. Bonis contributed roast of Piedmontese beef ribs, with porcini-and-potato puree and caramelized onions.

The master of ceremonies for this Chef & Wine Showdown was sommelier Charlie Plummer. When he came to our table to tally our overall votes during dessert, none of us were in complete agreement. Suddenly—with eight glasses of wine in our bellies—the cowboy ethos seemed to envelop us. Was that clicking noise the sound of pistols cocking?

Imagine wine aficionados at the O.K. Corral. Instead of “You callin’ me yella?,” we were shouting “You pickin’ the Chardonay?” Luckily, Plummer calmed us down before we started throwing punches and tossing cowhide chairs out the front window.

When Plummer began his final speech of the evening, you can imagine we were anxious to hear the results of our labors. Well, he announced, the crowd’s collective favorite course was the co-produced crab cake. No losers, there. Plummer never said which wines won.

Maybe there was no clear consensus. Or, maybe management sensed a lynch mob would have formed on the spot. Those are difficult to clean up after.

Details »
  • City: San Diego
  • Phone: 619-450-5883
  • Name: Cowboy Star Restaurant and Butcher Shop
  • Address: 640 Tenth Avenue