Celeb chef Brian Malarkey takes over La Jolla’s Herringbone restaurant after selling it several years ago

Interior of the Herringbone restaurant in La Jolla.
Interior of the Herringbone restaurant in La Jolla.
(John Gibbins/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Poised to close at the end of this year, the reinvented Herringbone will be the final restaurant project for Malarkey and partner Chris Puffer


Herringbone, the high-profile La Jolla restaurant that San Diego celeb chef Brian Malarkey created — and later sold four years ago — is returning to his ownership and will reopen next year as a “French-inspired” steakhouse.

Teaming up with his longtime partner Christopher Puffer, Malarkey said that the new fine dining venue — to be named Le Coq (think coq au vin) — will be the duo’s last restaurant project. News of their latest venture, first reported Thursday by San Diego Magazine, comes three years after they opened Animae, an opulent Asian fusion restaurant in downtown San Diego.

Herringbone, which was most recently owned by Tao Group Hospitality, a global restaurant and nightlife company, is set to close by early January, according to a formal layoff notice the company sent early this month to the state Employment Development Department. Some 57 employees, including part-time workers, will lose their jobs as a result of the closure.

Malarkey said it’s his hope that he and Puffer can reopen the Herschel Avenue restaurant by as early as the end of July. The Puffer Malarkey Collective currently owns four other restaurants, including Herb & Wood in Little Italy.

“I’ve always loved that building,” Malarkey said of the 7,500-square-foot space known for the six live olive trees that grace the interior. “At this point in my life we’re fully focused on San Diego so if we could have one more dream spot, we thought, what could it be and we agreed it was Herringbone. It’s very Herb and Wood-ish, and La Jolla is such a fun community to be a part of.”

Malarkey said he and Puffer purchased an extended lease from Tao, as well as the liquor license. The partnership plans to invest up to $3.5 million in the new steakhouse — including the acquisition cost — Malarkey said. The menu, still early in the development stage, will feature their take on classic French fare such as escargot, frisée salad with lardon and egg, and chateaubriand.

Several of the olive trees will remain, but Puffer will put his stamp on what will be an elegant, modernist French design, said Malarkey, whose first restaurant job was at the now-closed Citrus in Los Angeles, helmed by the late French-born chef Michel Richard.

“It’s going to be caviar and truffles and lobster, and it’s going to be fun,” he enthused. “The world is a little timid right now but we want butter and flavor and big steaks and large glasses of wine and martinis, an incredible party up in La Jolla. I’m classically trained under the very intense pressures of a French kitchen.”

They also plan to open up the restaurant more by relocating the bar and restrooms that dominate the middle of the dining room, Malarkey said.

The restaurant name, Puffer said, was inspired by Julia Child, the renowned cookbook author and television personality “who brought classic French cuisine into our living rooms when we were children.” She is widely known for many French dishes, notably her coq au vin, from which the Le Coq name is derived, Puffer explained.

“So why French?” he said. “Because it’s something we haven’t done yet. No pizza or pasta will find its way onto this menu.”

Just two years after Herringbone opened — at a cost of $3 million — the restaurant group, Hakkasan, purchased in 2014 a majority stake in the La Jolla venue and other restaurants owned by Malarkey, Puffer and then financial partner James Brennan. Malarkey remained involved with Herringbone and its sister Searsucker restaurants until 2018 when he parted company with Hakkasan. Last year, the Tao group acquired Hakkasan, including its restaurant holdings.

Malarkey said he’s been interested in regaining control of Herringbone for the last few years.

“I’ve been calling Hakassan before it was sold to Tao. “And when Tao took it over, I made contact with them and they were excited to move it on to me. Their strong focus is more Vegas and replicating brands they have in Vegas. They’re also more into nightlife, and La Jolla is a neighborhood.”

Just a few months ago, Tao debuted its upscale dining concept, LAVO, located in the Gaslamp Quarter. The swanky Italian dining venue occupies the old Searsucker restaurant space at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Market Street. It had been closed since the summer of 2020.

Tao spokesman Sam Ong said Friday that the hospitality group decided to sell Herringbone to “focus on our core brand, LAVO San Diego.”