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A San Diego steakhouse star expands into University Village 

Side Dish

A Cowboy cometh

When Cowboy Star (thecowboystar.com) was reviewed by the San Diego Reader in July 2008, shortly after its opening, it earned a rare 4.5 stars by the publication's critic, who called it "a shrine to the joy of wild carnivorousness" and "a new restaurant so sweet and winsome I wanted to scratch its mane, rub noses with it and feed it apples from my hand."

Which would have nothing to do with us were it not for the plan to open a second location of the successful steakhouse and butcher shop here, inside University Village (5198 N. Nevada Ave.) come November.

Co-owner Jon Weber says "we're definitely going to grow this brand"; once this location opens, he'll begin scouting for site Nos. 3, 4 and 5, all corporately controlled. "We've enjoyed the independent label — it's been nice and has a lot to do with how you portray yourself," he says. "But at a certain point, everything must be streamlined or it'll fall apart, which means you will look more like a chain."

Still, he does promise no name tags, birthday songs or "funny balloons," because Cowboy Star leads with a slick interior design and not-cheap menu. Its motto: "Rough and rugged yet polished and elegant."

The whole package won over University Village investors who were in San Diego for a convention not long ago; more than impressed, they felt the eatery they'd stumbled into was "the fit" for an anchor spot they'd been holding inside the development, the way Weber tells it.

All the hoopla surrounds a menu built around the attached butcher shop, which will have its own storefront, and will be staffed by the restaurant's cooks. Weber says he sources from independent, family-run ranches that refuse antibiotics and growth hormones. Products include some grass-fed-through-slaughter, USDA prime cuts (in the top 2 percent of certification standards) and items like 35-day dry-aged beef. Outside of steaks ranging from 6 (a Wagyu New York strip) to 40 ounces (a porterhouse for two), dining room menus also offer game meats and seafood, plus burgers and sandwiches (at lunch).

"We'll find out what people want and adapt to it," says Weber, citing past experience with those turned of by the flavor of grass-fed beef, for example. "I think providing options is super-important ... to let consumers guide you a bit. At the end of the day, it's what they're happy with."

Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef Victor Jimenez will travel from San Diego to launch the new kitchen, as will Weber, who notes similarities between the Springs and San Diego; the latter's biggest revenue sources are military-, tourism- and tech-related. But with the Springs getting a full four seasons, our Cowboy Star's menu will be gifted seasonal sauces and side plates partly informed by local farmers markets.

Also look for local craft beer taps and an award-winning cocktail program.

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