Chef Steve Brown returns to San Diego with new brick-and-mortar tasting menu concept
Over the past three years, homegrown chef Steve Brown has toured North America hosting more than 200 pricey pop-up tasting dinners showcasing Wagyu beef. The goal of the tour: fine-tune the menu concept until he could afford to open a brick-and-mortar tasting-only restaurant.
Now that time has come, and Brown has chosen his hometown of San Diego as the spot where he’ll build the restaurant of his dreams. And it’s here, at the soon-to-open Cosecha SD in the Gaslamp Quarter, Brown believes he’ll one day earn two, or maybe even three, Michelin stars.
Clearly, confidence is something Brown has in abundance. But he has also spent years studying the secrets of Michelin-starred restaurants. He thinks the story he will tell about himself, his food and his San Diego hometown at Cosecha SD will finally place him in the celestial firmament with his culinary idols.
Cosecha is the Spanish word for harvest. It was inspired by Brown’s connection to the produce grown on the farms near the Imperial Beach home he shares with his wife, photographer Jamie Dickerson Brown, and their 8-month-old son, Steve III. It’s also a good metaphor for his cooking career. After years of slow growth toiling in restaurant kitchens and enduring periodic storms that shuttered two of his past restaurants, Brown’s brand may have finally come to fruition.
Cosecha SD will have its grand opening in November or December at the historic Keating Hotel at 432 F St. Until construction on a new onsite kitchen is complete, diners can still get a taste of the Cosecha experience with a handful of pop-ups that will be presented at the Keating in September and October.
Once the restaurant opens, it will offer two seatings for 40 diners up to five nights a week. The 15- to 18-course, 2 1/2-hour, $200 meal will take diners on a progression of bites starting with produce grown in a garden on the Keating Hotel’s roof, then fish, lamb and four Wagyu beef courses, followed by dessert. Wines by the glass and course-by-course wine pairings will be optional.
Brown, who will turn 39 in September, said the secret to earning Michelin stars is taking the diner on a journey, and that’s what visitors will experience at Cosecha SD. After buying tickets online, customers will receive a code for a keypad near the hotel’s Fifth Street entrance by the Coyote Ugly Saloon. From there, they’ll climb an old stairway lined with Dickerson’s photos of the Cosecha SD team at work.
“You’re taking someone’s mindset up 25 stairs, elevating the experience,” he said. “They’ll be going from the grime of the Gaslamp to an elegant setting.”
At the top of the stairs, diners will enter a bar where they’ll order drinks and nibble the first few appetizer courses while watching the team work in a glass-walled kitchen. Once seated at two long tables in the dining room, the diners can watch their next courses being finished before their eyes at nearby prep tables.
In the middle of the room there will be a stage, where Brown and his team, from sous chefs to dishwashers, will take turns introducing each course. The all-hands oratory is a technique Brown learned from Lazy Bear, a San Francisco restaurant with two Michelin stars.
“I thought what they were doing was a brilliant way to show empowerment of the team and shared responsibility for the final product,” Brown said.
Although Cosecha SD will be in the category of fine dining, Brown said it won’t be pretentious. No suits and jackets are required, and the background playlist will be Brown’s favorite all-time hip-hop songs, with F-bombs included.
“San Diegans get scared off by fine dining,” he said. “I’m here to show San Diegans that they can experience fine dining without the snobby and stuffy snootiness. This will be a blast.”
Before this year, earning a Michelin star in San Diego wasn’t possible. The food ratings guide expanded its coverage to all of California after limiting its ratings for many years to only San Francisco.
That’s where Brown was working last year as executive chef of the Omakase Group’s Niku steakhouse. He led the team that opened that 18-seat Wagyu-focused chef’s counter in San Francisco’s Design District this past February. His plan was to stay in San Francisco to compete for Michelin stars, but when the guide expanded to San Diego this year, he was more than happy to come home.
Brown grew up in Imperial Beach and San Bernardino, then, eager for adventure, he moved overseas at age 20 for a job as a housekeeper at a German hotel. Eventually he ended up in the hotel’s kitchen and fell in love with cooking. After earning a degree at Le Cordon Bleu culinary school, he worked his way around L.A.’s restaurant scene for many years.
In mid-2015, he opened his first restaurant in West Hollywood, but it closed after just four months due to partnership troubles. In 2016, he moved back to Imperial Beach and launched his Cosecha pop-up series. Then, in October 2017, he opened Temp by Cosecha, a 40-seat bistro in Chula Vista. Again, partnership problems led to Brown’s departure six months later, and Temp closed.
With the success of Niku — from which Brown made an amicable parting in March — and the three-year record of success with the pop-up, Brown said he knows he has the right team and concept in place to make Cosecha SD a success. And he couldn’t be happier that it’s here in San Diego.
“We think about San Diego every day. We’re making this for San Diego,” he said. “We want San Diegans to come in here for dinner and a show, and they’ll leave entertained.”
For details on upcoming pop-ups and the Cosecha SD restaurant at Keating Hotel, visit chefstevebrown.com.