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First Look: Le Coq Restaurant

Animae chef Tara Monsod helms the Puffer Malarkey Collective’s new French steakhouse in La Jolla

“We’re definitely going for a late-night, sexy Paris feel,” says executive chef Tara Monsod (Animae) of Le Coq, Puffer Malarkey Collective’s newest (and reportedly last) venture, this time into the world of French steakhouse cuisine. 

Think mood lighting, red velvet booths, lacquered wood, verdant plants, and an inviting 36-foot, stone-topped circular bar that welcomes you into the space. Complete with a “more functional and modern kitchen,” Monsod says, it’s a total overhaul of the 1930s La Jolla building at 7837 Herschel Avenue that once housed Puffer Malarkey’s Herringbone.

If Herringbone was a fairy grotto, Le Coq is a little more grown-up and libidinous, catering to modern running-away-to-Europe fantasies over storybook escapes. It’s made for tét-â-tét, flirting, lingering over dinner.

Certain elements of the 1930s warehouse, which once housed an Oldsmobile dealer, are still intact: exposed brick walls, naked steel trusses. Designer Megan Power of Workind Studio chose to keep some raw industrial elements, blending the building’s working history with retro ’70s supper club intimacy and hospitality.

“[There’s] old-school Parisian service [and] white-hatted chefs,” Monsod says. “But [it’s] not buttoned-up. We want you to relax and enjoy the experience.” To prep for her role in a French kitchen, Monsod, fresh off her James Beard nom, spent a couple weeks in the City of Light in February, soaking up knowledge and saucisson from Parisian chefs. 

“Le Coq’s menu is an ode to the classics, [but it’s also] inspired by a new wave in French cooking,” Monsod says. “There are no rules; there’s influence from every which way.” 

Energized by conversations with Asian chefs in Paris, Monsod added nods to Asian cuisine to the dishes she and her team developed for Le Coq. Take the jambon salad, for example: a Parisian bistro staple Monsod updated with chrysanthemum leaves (from Girl + Dug farm in San Marcos), Japanese sour plum, and ume vinaigrette. Under Monsod’s auspices, canard a l’orange becomes duck with tamarind puree, kumquat, and chicory, a twist on the sweet-sour classic that takes the flavor further east. 

Look for Monsod’s version of mussels à la Les Enfants du Marché, a tiny counterside establishment with an outsized reputation nestled in Paris’s oldest open-air market. Her approach to land-and-sea dishes differs by focusing on the flora the ocean has to offer—“pork and seaweed,” Monsod explains, “and lamb and sea beans.” You’ll find hyper-local steak, pork from Thompson Heritage Ranch in Ramona, yellowtail from San Diego waters, and produce from San Diego farms on the menu. 

And, of course, it wouldn’t be French without wine and dessert. French and Californian bottles share the wine list. Basque cheesecake, strawberry mille-feuille with vanilla cream, pistachio Paris-Brest with pâté à choux, and Herbsaint sorbet crowd the proverbial dessert cart. Executive pastry chef Laura Warren developed several sweet offerings around fresh fruit from San Diego growers. Warren and Monsod both worked with Puffer Malarkey Collective in the Herringbone days.

“It’s a full-circle moment,” says Puffer Malarkey Collective marketing director Lillian Dang. “It’s like a homecoming.” 

Two old friends at the helm may help the Le Coq team cultivate the dinner party vibe they’re aiming for. “In Paris, we saw people gathering inside and outside restaurants, hanging out, talking, eating,” Monsod says. “That’s what we want to see here: diners engaged with each other, with lots of wine, lots of laughter, enjoying each other’s company. This restaurant is not meant to be quiet.” 

Le Coq opens on June 20 at 7837 Herschel Avenue in La Jolla.

By Leorah Gavidor

Leorah Gavidor won her first essay contest at age 5. She writes features, news, and non-fiction in San Diego.

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