San Diego’s favorite celebrity chef, Brian Malarkey of “Top Chef 3 Miami” fame and former Oceanaire executive chef teamed up with local nightlife guru and visionary James Brennan of Stingaree to create what will soon to be known as the Gaslamp Quarter’s first official neighborhood restaurant and bar: Searsucker.
Before I dove into all the delicious details, I just had to know where the name came from. According to Chef Malarkey, Searsucker is actually a Hindu word that means milk and sugar. Wait, what?
OK here’s the real deal: The word seersucker that defines light-weight, woven fabric originally comes from the Hindu words "shir o shakkar" which mean milk and sugar. And if you care to stretch your imagination, it can be said that the smooth and rough stripes of this material do somewhat resemble the bumpy texture of sugar and the smooth surface of milk. In terms of style, the seersucker suit was first adapted by the working class in the United States for comfort and accessibility, and later also came into favor with the upper class. Eventually, seersucker became de rigueur among southern gentlemen, who wore the fabric to look chic and stay cool during the hot and humid weather.
Although fine dining was once reserved for the upper class, new restaurants in San Diego and all across the nation are now embracing a sense of casual sophistication while offering high quality cuisine in a comfortable atmosphere for an accessible price point. The brains behind Searsucker understand and support this industry trend and as a result have created the perfect blend of upscale and everyday – boasting an unpretentious menu of new American classic cuisine and an open living room-style Thomas Shoos design.
The space formerly occupied by Z-Gallery on the corner of Fifth & Market (arguably the best real estate in all of the Gaslamp) is now an extension of Chef Malarkey’s home kitchen. One celebrity chef who keeps it real and loves hosting dinner parties at his San Diego home where guests congregate in the kitchen, Malarkey decided to carry that vibe over to the restaurant. Any why not go the extra mile to create your dream faux-home?
Brennan and Malarkey brought in Thomas Shoos – a celebrated interior designer known for his work in TAO Restaurant and Nightclub, Citizen Smith, Koi Restaurant, The Huntly Hotel in Santa Monica, O-Bar, Table 8 and a myriad of celebrities' personal homes.
Inside Searsucker, a modern and industrial edge is softened by an overflow of comfy couches, Oriental rugs, textured animal patterns, and understated graphics that simply read “EAT” in black and white. There are no secrets at Searsucker – the open kitchen invites patrons to be a part of the culinary experience from start to finish while smelling every flavor along the way. Exposed pipes and modern lighting look down upon mismatched chairs and sofas that rest in warm autumn hues. A huge bar takes up a solid third of the venue, while half-booths and tables in varied sizes are sprinkled throughout the room. Oh, and don’t expect to find any seersucker fabric in your face; only servers and kitchen staff rock seersucker duds in the form of aprons over casual ensembles.
Speaking of kitchen staff, let’s eat! The straight-forward menu of new American classic cuisine is divided into seven sections: Bites, Smalls, Greens, Ocean, Ranch, Farm and And. Start with such simple and tasty Bites as the Pretzel with ham and honey; Fennel Ribs; Duck Fat Garlic Fries; Rosemary Lemon Butter Popcorn; Pink Pepper Sweet Potato; or a spicy plate of garlic olives. The Small items may be petite in portion but are certainly strong in flavor. I recommend trying the Beef Tartar and Beet Carpaccio, “Carb Free” Crab Cake, Scallop and Lobster Toast, Farm Bird Lollipops and Bleu Fondue, and Mussels with sausage and bitter beer. The menu boasts ten varieties of Greens to choose from for lighter fare, including Smoked Trout with grapefruit, radish and avocado; Strawberry, champagne and walnut; Watermelon, tomato and honey sherry; Flatiron, piquillo and bleu; among other fresh concoctions.
Chef Malarkey has a strong affinity for seafood and is known for adding a vibrant flair to our favorite items from the sea … the San Diego sea to be exact. On the Ocean portion of the menu is Local Shark, BBQ’d and served with onions and bleu cheese; Local Seabass with tomato and eggplant hash; Local Harpooned Swordfish with drunken cherries and almonds; and Local Baja Scallops with foie gras and figs.
If you want to remain on land, check out the Ranch portion of the menu that boasts such stand-out dishes as Loin Filet Mignon with lobster butter; Hanger with porcini and truffles; Cheek with goat cheese dumplings; and Ribeye Tomahawk with cognac and horseradish. Don’t forget to visit the Farm and taste the Pork Butt with grilled peach and bacon butter or “Benny and the Birds” with apricot gastrique.
No dining experience is complete without the array of sides you add into the mix. The short ‘n sweet “And” menu dares you to elevate your meal with Jalepano Corn off the Cob, Fried Brussels, Fennel and Fingerlings, Butter Potato, Bacon Grits, Braised Greens, Cauliflower Mashers or Eggplant Mash. If you dare, pair your meal with a specialty cocktail or local brew from Searsucker’s tantalizing hand-crafted bar menu.
Searsucker celebrated a soft opening on July 19th, officially opens for dinner in late July and will soon after add a lunch component featuring a rollaway menu board and casual and efficient service standards. A weekend brunch will also come with time. For more details please call 619.233.7327 or visit Searsucker in San Diego.
Searsucker photos courtesy of Chantelle Marie of Chantelle Photography