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Top-notch prospect newcomer Mermaids & Cowboys dazzles

A resounding endorsement for La Jolla newcomer Mermaids & Cowboys and its executive chef Chris Barre

Mermaids & Cowboys’ Blackened Ahi Tataki
Image Credits Photography by Vincent Knakal

Rabbit and Frog…Chance and Magic…Copper and Wood. These aren’t modern bars or restaurants. They’re gems produced by an online hipster business-name generator. All too often the noun-plus-noun moniker framework lacks heart or meaning, but there’s a charming story behind La Jolla’s recently installed Mermaids & Cowboys, an indoor-outdoor surf-and-turf outpost on Prospect Street built around the lore of Japanese pearl divers and Southern California cattle ranchers.

Executive chef Chris Barre is an artist outside the kitchen who draws on the same avant-garde bent that colors his canvasses when designing his dishes. That out-there creativity is best exemplified by his bone marrow crab cake: beef-buttered lump shellfish stuffing nestled into a pair of roasted femurs. Its immense richness is cut in classic style care of a squeeze of lemon and a less conventional method — spreading it atop grilled sourdough — which might sound ill-advised, but the differences in seasoning and texture allow it to work. Ditto the potato-on-potato experience of “chowder fries,” which are just what they sound like: double-fried spud batons served poutine-style with New England clam chowder in lieu of gravy, plus basil and brown-sugar bacon brittle. It’s two dishes in one and, against all odds, the tender boiled potatoes come across as an asset rather than a liability. Bring on the starch.

Bone Marrow Crab Cake
Bone Marrow Crab Cake

Both of the aforementioned dishes are everything a shared plate offering should be — a fun order too large and too decadent for one to devour on their own (though it would be fun to try), and something that will inspire some fun foodie discussions.

Wisely, Barre knows there are times to dial back his penchant for pushing the envelope. He allows the inherent charms of fresh oysters on the half shell to carry the day, while providing a surprisingly acidic, banana-based cocktail sauce for the adventurous. Cooked oyster preparations are based in tradition (garlic butter and Pecorino Romano; chorizo and aioli), and traditional fare like halibut fish and chips, a chicken Caesar salad, “party time” (two-to-three-pound) servings of porterhouse steak, Maine lobster, and king crab legs are straightforward.

With a mostly seafood menu, Barre admits to being a tad low on “cowboy” fare but uses an of-the-moment chalkboard menu to add meat and poultry dishes based on quality protein that comes his way. A recent visit turned up a 12-ounce ribeye and 14-ounce pork chop, both available with a pat of bone marrow butter.

Mermaids and Cowboys Executive chef Chris Barre
Executive chef Chris Barre

The mainstay of the aptly named “save room” section of the menu is a cheesecake and yellow cake hybrid fortified with pounds of butter and baked to an ungodly crisp and delicious golden brown on all sides. It’s so comforting and delectable on its own that it doesn’t need the salted, house-made honeyed peanut butter ice cream scooped atop it, but it’s worth finding the extra stomach space for that tasty accoutrement.

Add swift, friendly servers and a floorplan built for parties of four or more to a menu constructed solely and smartly for communal experiences, and one has in Mermaids & Cowboys something different on Prospect as well as perhaps one of the best shared-plate restaurants in San Diego. 858.999.0205, mermaidscowboys.com

Golden Forks

Service 4
Timeliness 4
Ambience 3
Culinary Innovation 4
Food Quality 4
Craft Beer List 4
Craft Cocktail Program 3
Value 3

One Comment

  • Nicole Dawe


    Love this new restaurant! The fish is the best! The Chef is extremely friendly!

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