The Puffer Malarkey Collective, the local hospitality group run by Chris Puffer and chef Brian Malarkey, is scheduled to rejoin the dine-in restaurant landscape this Friday with the reopening of its newest eatery, Herb & Sea in Encinitas. Malarkey, who joked that his eateries were the first to close and now are last to open (the group temporarily shuttered all operations on March 15, a day before the county announced the mandated shutdown), has been appearing in the current season of Top Chef and holding virtual cooking classes to raise funds for his staff while the restaurants have been dormant.
Malarkey and Puffer will resume seated dining at Herb & Wood in Little Italy on July 8 but are waiting a while longer to reopen Animae, their splashy Asian spot in downtown’s Pacific Gate building.
Earlier this year, they hired a new culinary director who was originally slated to get to work on April 1 but whose start was delayed by the shutdown. A longtime friend of Malarkey’s and a veteran of the restaurant industry on both coasts, Nate Appleman has been awarded by the James Beard Foundation and was once a regular on the Food Network. The chef earned a spot in the national pizza pantheon during his time in the Bay Area, where he was partner and chef of San Francisco’s acclaimed A16 and SPQR.
His first task in San Diego is to revamp the menu at Animae, which is scheduled to reopen for dine-in and takeout on July 22. The group recently split with executive chef Joe Magnanelli, who helped to launch the restaurant after leaving a longterm post with Cucina Urbana.
It’s Appleman’s first direct kitchen role after more than a decade spent as a corporate and consulting chef with various companies, including most recently Umami Burger in Los Angeles. This is Appleman’s second time living in San Diego; he moved here in 2014 when working with Chipotle Mexican Grill.
Appleman readily admits that his professional experience with Asian food is limited (although he did develop ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen while with Chipotle) but says that Korean cuisine is his all-time favorite. The well-traveled chef also became familiar with preparing Filipino dishes while raising his son, who is half-Filipino, and curates a food-focused Instagram that attests to his triumphs in home cooking.
Malarkey shared that Animae’s menu will be lighter overall, with a few favorite dishes remaining. He says it will feature an increased Southeast Asian influence, with more raw elements, seafood platters, and a further developed wagyu beef program. Appleman, who called San Diego “the land of opportunity” in an Eater interview during his last stint here, maintains that our city offers the absolute best ingredients for any chef, from produce to seafood, which he plans to incorporate into the new plates.
Pizza also remains a serious passion for Appleman, so look for the Puffer Malarkey Collective to potentially build him a related restaurant; Brian Malarkey told Eater that the group fully intends to back a concept for the chef.