In a a town where few culinary pros are known by name, chef and consummate extrovert Brian Malarkey (pictured at right) has built a following both loyal and robust. While TV appearances (Top Chef 3 Miami, Mega Bites, etc.) jettisoned him into the spotlight, the quality dishes he developed as executive chef at Downtown's Oceanaire Seafood Room backed public-eye pomp with savory substance. As such, when Malarkey left the restaurant last year, many wondered where he'd resurface. That question will be answered in a big way when, later this month, he opens the doors to Searsucker, a 7,000 square-foot restaurant in the heart of the Gaslamp.
Located at Fifth and Market on the site that previously housed the three-level Z Gallerie, "it's a restaurant for the people," says Malarkey. "It's like a club for grownups, where you can sit down and call up some friends to come meet you for a drink or, if you want, have a full on meal at your own pace. My wait staff will kill me for this, but I want you to own your table and not be rushed."
Acclaimed designer Thomas Schoos-known for his upscale contemporary design of venues including Café Bravo in Temecula and LAX and O-Bar in L.A., -created Searsucker's stylishly worn and, hence, warm environment, which, when complete, will center around a traditional dining room fitted with scratched wooden tables and scuffed leather banquets. The restaurant's sprawling floor plan also includes a mammoth rectangular bar and ample real estate devoted to plush couches and comfy mismatched chairs.
"We wanted to make sure that whatever we did, we didn't go too over the top, because the space had a lot to work with already," says San Diego nightlife impresario, James Brennan (at left in photo), Malarkey's close friend and business partner in Searsucker.
And Brennan should know a little something about what works-after all, we're talking about the man behind downtown hotspots Stingaree and Side Bar.
"For the space, we came at it with a Broadway show mentality of what the experience was going to be," Brennan says. "When you walk into Searsucker, stage left is Brian with the cool bar seats by the kitchen, and more tables with the noise and atmosphere of a busy restaurant. Stage right is a really cool, very mature lounge or bar area."
No matter where patrons sit, the full menu is available. This is ambitious not only because a full house at Searsucker means more than 200 hungry mouths to feed, but also because Malarkey and his brigade will be on full display via the large open kitchen (which also features bar seating).
Malarkey's opening day bill of fare comes in at a hefty 60-plus offerings (not including side dishes) and is made up of uncomplicated, familiar flavor combinations built around everything from salmon and pork to abalone and bull's balls. Despite his penchant for showmanship, there are no smoke and mirrors in the form of fancy garnishes, foams or touches of molecular gastronomy. The New American Classic food is simple and approachable, featuring pristine meats and produce, plus seafood reeled in from local waters.
Local swordfish is served "drunken" with cherries and almonds. Baja scallops are dressed with a sweet persimmon relish, and local Tombo albacore tuna goes Italiano via the addition of prosciutto, basil and balsamic vinegar. But Searsucker is anything but Oceanaire Part Deux. Red meat options run the bovine gamut from cheek to cheek, with steaks and inventive off-cut dishes like hock "osso bucco" and bone marrow with shallot jam. The rest of the barnyard-chicken, lamb and pork (roasted shoulder with bacon and peach jam)-is also represented, as are game meats including rabbit, quail and duck (with gnocchi and mustard).
As for drinks, the best local craft beers will be poured in conjunction with Malarkey's "No Crap On Tap" initiative. Specialty cocktails designed to be paired with the food will also be available, along with a largely Californian wine list that gives a respectful nod to Malarkey's home state of Oregon.
From dining room to lounge, plate to glass and farm to table, Searsucker is a manifestation of its owners' ideals and personalities. It's been a dream for Malarkey, and making it come true with a friend-now that's something that certainly doesn't suck.
611 Fifth Avenue, Downtown
619.233.7327 | searsucker.com