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May, 2013, Page 129
Photos by Richard Maack
Pork chop with butternut, bourbon and cabbage
Innovative small plates are the VIPs at Brian Malarkey’s stylish Scottsdale gastrolounge.
Brian Malarkey clearly has a thing for fabric – he’s the executive chef and partner of restaurant concepts in San Diego including Burlap, Gingham, Gabardine, and Herringbone. The dapper Le Cordon Bleu Portland grad charmed his way into the public eye as a finalist on Bravo’s
Top Chef: Miami
(season 3) in 2009, then took his notoriety to the bank. In 2010, he teamed with nightlife specialist James Brennan, founded Enlightened Hospitality Group and opened his first Searsucker restaurant in San Diego’s hip Gaslamp Quarter. A deliberate misspelling of “seersucker” that harkens to the sea, Searsucker is the first Malarkey outpost to hit the Valley.
Peter Rabbit cocktail
Given the chef’s penchant for sartorial names and funky fedoras, it’s not surprising that Searsucker earns its style stripes. The decor at this Scottsdale Fashion Square-adjacent eatery is runway perfect, filling what could be a cavernous 9,500-square-foot office tower lobby with open vignettes of cozy dining areas, a spacious bar, and a lounge area that looks like a tidy living room decked with leather and cowhide. Hardwood floors gleam, exposed duct ceilings absorb enough of the noise to keep conversation comfortable, and every conceivable material is used for the architecture and accent pieces. It’s a hip dish that mixes a dash of Dwell, a half cup of Restoration Hardware, and a pinch of disco thrift shop.
In turn, Searsucker takes the elevated pub grub menu trend to the next level. Like a fedora-clad hipster, the dish descriptions are cool, clever, and unnecessarily cryptic. I’m here to eat, not to listen to staffers labor through explaining arcane items like “squid ‘sweet heat’” and “tongue & cheek ‘yes’ agave + fresco + cactus.” Good grief, just use English and tell us the squid is tasty tubes and tentacles of gently fried calamari moistened with sweet-spicy chile sauce ($10), while tongue & cheek is a dark, messy (though delicious) stew of braised head meats dotted with crumbled white cheese and bits of tender nopales gently sweetened with agave. And I would rather have been warned by my server that the stew is quite tiny for its price of $26.
Still, there’s plenty to appreciate about a varied menu divided into “bites,” “smalls,” “greens,” “ocean,” “ranch,” “farm,” and “ands” (which are side dishes, like a superb slop of fingerling potatoes swimming in a puddle of egg yolk, bleu cheese and onion, $6). For diners like me who are bored of the same-old at so many Valley restaurants, this is a lovely breath of fresh air.
Kudos to Malarkey for experimenting with recipes like shark “drunken,” smothered in boozy cherries and smoked almonds ($29; sometimes swordfish is swapped for shark, $31) – an unexpectedly successful way to serve the mild fish that can so easily turn rubbery and tasteless. At lunch, the shark is blackened and doesn’t work as well; my knife-and-fork focaccia sandwich was dry despite being capped with greasy bacon and avocado ($12). I also like the albacore laced with prosciutto and pesto ($24) – the strongly flavored accompaniments add nice punch to the plate.
Land-lubbing dishes are equally memorable and over the top. Slow braised pork butt partnered with warm apple salad and bacon emulsion ($24) embraces fat like an old friend. Steak lovers will have a field day with the somewhat ridiculous rib-eye steak dubbed “Tomahawk.” The bone-in serving looks, indeed, like a throwing axe that’s been dressed in cognac-horseradish sauce, weighs in at nearly three pounds, and sells for an impressive $75. Not surprisingly, my server told me she hears more awestruck comments than orders for this one.
Chicken and waffles
After my first visit, I skipped the entrees and mixed and mingled among the real stars of the kitchen, the smaller plates. Some San Diego favorites have made the trip to Scottsdale, and I enjoyed them as much here as I did there. First, dive into the cheddar puffers ($2) – basically little, airy gougères. Meatballs ($10) are tasty go-withs, moist and elegantly dressed in tomato and basil. Scoopable bone marrow ($11) gets a good dose of sea salt and onion jam to cut the richness, and I’ll never tire of the excellent duck fat fries dunked in savory tomato jam ($7), even better when paired with a Peter Rabbit cocktail made with Pimm’s No. 1, bruised basil, pressed lemon and tart pickled carrot ($12). The chicken and waffle ($14) is unusual but lovable, presented as one small waffle layered with chicken and bacon, then fried all together.
One of the best times to come is happy hour, Monday through Friday from 5 to 6:30 p.m. That’s when you’ll score snacks like salmon and corn hush puppies ($5), dense and addictive and slathered in honey butter; that Peter Rabbit cocktail for $6; and Gabardine label sauvignon blanc for $5. It gets crowded, and the usually prompt service can slow to a crawl, but pretty people-watching keeps us occupied.
Just keep one thing in mind while doing the social crawl. In typically odd Searsucker fashion, there is almost no cell service in the restaurant. Instead, guests gather in the building lobby to stay connected. Whether that’s a Malarkey whim (concentrate on the food and your dining companions, please) or simply weird architecture, it’s just another thing to appreciate about this different, daring destination.
Left: Chocolate espresso mousse cake
Right: Inside Searsucker
6900 E. Camelback Rd., Scottsdale
Lunch, 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday; dinner, 5-10 p.m. Sunday-
Thursday and 5-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday.
Highlights: Squid “sweet heat” ($10); tongue & cheek “yes” ($26); fingerling potatoes with yolk ($6); shark “drunken” ($29); albacore with prosciutto and pesto ($24); cheddar puffers ($2); meatballs ($10); bone marrow ($11); duck fat fries with tomato jam ($7); Peter Rabbit cocktail ($12); chicken and waffle ($14)
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