In the best possible way, Cowboy Star looks like a barn built by a corporate lawyer. Echoing the restaurant's first location in San Diego, sumptuous caramel-colored leather half-booths, dipping and bulging at the seams, sit below walls of warmly lit wood slats; barbed wire subtly accents the ceiling over tables covered in thick white cloths preset with glittering glassware; and deep, dark leather chairs cover a cowhide in front of a glass floor-to-ceiling wine cellar.
Call it cattleman couture.
This, the second Cowboy Star in what co-owner Jon Weber told the Indy in August is the beginning of a continued expansion, represents an interesting evolution in the local fine-dining scene. Find little things — like food from executive chef Victor Jimenez and chef de cuisine Brandon Martin deliberately plated with tweezers; or spoons of rousing amuse bouches of watermelon, avocado, Greek yogurt and a blast of lemon; or an oyster topping of red verjus, ponzu made in-house, and horseradish — and big things, like the prices. (I can't tell you if it's my Colorado Springs upbringing or some deficiency of character, but it was unnerving to order lunch for two and see a bill for $85. Add in our cost at dinner, and our two meals totaled almost $330 after tip.)
As luck would have it, we caught Cowboy Star on the last few days of its current menu, which will be different by the time you read this. Either way, we sat at the bar, where woven place mats were set down and glasses were beer-specific.
A $13 heirloom-tomato salad elicited visions of purple and brown beauties carved into fat, misshapen slices, but the delivered half cup of cherry tomatoes, arugula and blue cheese technically met the description as well. Meanwhile, it's hard to fully appreciate whatever the Lobster Cobb Salad was doing when it tasted like somebody salted each individual leaf of butter lettuce, but a helping of sweet claw meat over house pancetta helped. No complaints about the Sculpin IPA ($8), or a 12-ounce New York strip aged for 21 days, its brown and black crust glistening with compound butter.
Evening service began with a warning that the restaurant tries to maintain a slower, deliberate pace, followed in time by cryptic advisements that our server wouldn't ring in our food now, but wouldn't leave us without for long. (... OK ...)
Still: Order the Old Fashioned, with Benchmark Old No. 8 Bourbon and a Luxardo cherry; or the Where There's Smoke, which tasted like a smoked Long Island Iced Tea; or the Calamity Gin, a fizzed-up, herbaceous bit of fun.
For food, go with a pair of deeply trenched bison marrow bones; or the C-Star Caesar, with its white anchovies, shaved Parmesan, and lardons replacing croutons, kindly split for us in the kitchen. (Unused place settings were taken, napkins were folded upon departure, silverware was replaced and service, as a whole, was excellent if over-attentive, probably because we were recognized.) One highlight had to be a round of steak tartare, a dainty fried quail egg reflecting crystals of salt over the top, with raw garlic and shallots.
A beautifully plated $36 share of scallops à la Grenobloise was a sour, confusing version of the French classic, but it's gone now, so turn to the 8-ounce American Kobe beef skirt steak from Snake River Farms. Perfectly cooked medium-rare, even though very thin, and oozing juices, every unctuous bite was a competition to see if this bite right here would be the one to kill me from pleasure.
With its retail butcher shop next door, Cowboy Star is a force to be reckoned with. But do diners want to go big, or go home?
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