North County San Diego just got decidedly more chic with the recent opening of Searsucker Del Mar, the newest SoCal site for the burgeoning dining brand that’s been a Gaslamp District draw since 2010. Now the fun-and-food-loving folks in North County can bask in Searsucker’s distinctive mix of sophisticated food served in a lively environment. This restaurant has made great strides in turning Del Mar Highlands into a bona fide culinary destination.
Once the spot of Burlap, the restaurant has been transformed from a trendy bar scene to a stylish hot spot of New American cuisine from the brains and brawn of Top Chef Season 3 finalist and celebrity chef Brian Malarkey along with business partner James Brennan. Uniquely conceived as a social dining encounter that proffers inspired gourmet fare, both the menu and the décor have been designed for a communal epicure experience.
The restaurant has a warm and comfortable beach town vibe within its indoor and outdoor space. The outdoor patio features a Koi pond (with fish humorously named after restaurant employees), a fire pit, and cozy seating that guests can enjoy while noshing on the incredible — and sometimes whimsical — food adeptly executed by Chef de Cuisine Andrew “Dizzle” Phillips. From lunch to brunch and dinner to drinks, Chef Phillips creatively executes many tongue-in-cheek dishes.
When asked what sets his restaurant apart from others in the area, Chef Malarkey urges, “It’s definitely the atmosphere and environment! Searsucker Del Mar is a great place with different spots—from the private dining room and the indoor/outdoor bar to the fire pit and Koi pond. This makes it a great place to bring together a lot of people. It's far and away the biggest and most fun place in North County!”
Regarding his favorite aspects of the restaurant, Chef Malarkey’s mentions “how bright, light, and open the space has become, as well as all the different environments in which you can eat, relax, and entertain in.”
Many agree, including some famous faces, “It's a hotspot for the Real Housewives of Orange County and Los Angeles as well as BRAVO stars, in general. We have a ton of BRAVO executives and producers in here and have even shot an episode of Millionaire Matchmaker there,” said Malarkey. “Bo Derek has also been in, and she is one of my favorites. The Del Mar jockeys are also frequent guests of the restaurant.”
The menu is divided into many plates and options, including a wide range of Bites, Smalls, Raw and Greens sections; while the entrée selections are comprised of Ocean, Ranch and Farm. During my visit, I sampled much of what Searsucker has to offer, and I can tell you that it is a lot. Exciting and kinetic atmosphere aside, each and every dish did the impossible, nearly outshining the plate prior, with the experience stunningly unfolding—and my anticipation growing exponentially—with each course.
Among the dynamic starter dishes sampled were: Kobe Carpaccio with shaved truffle, mustard, and manchego; Short Rib “Hunter” with horseradish and fried onion; and Shrimp “Spicy” and Bacon Grits. Moving onto the main courses, some of the standouts were the Salmon Roots with parsnip puree, root vegetables, and pistachios and the unequivocal star of the show—a moist and tender Ribeye “Tomahawk” with cognac and horseradish. Making sure to save room for dessert, I savored the Granny’s Banana Cake with caramel, cream cheese and praline ice cream.
Even amid all of this food fabulosity, it would be remiss to not give a shout out to the beverage program at Searsucker. Paired with the food or enjoyed entirely on their own, the creative cocktails and delectable drinks like the Pear Tree with Zaya aged rum, Fernet Branca, pear and lemon was all balanced perfectly. Or, after a day at the Del Mar Racetrack, the Mint Juleps are a must! Stop by on Tuesday night and you’ll be able to try new wines and get half off select bottles.
The menu and bar innovations are no surprise given the pedigree of the partners in charge. In less than two years, Chef Malarkey and hospitality visionary James Brennan, as part of the Enlightened Hospitality Group, have created five wildly successful restaurant concepts. Other notables in their stable include Gabardine, Gingham, and Herringbone. All of these have received top marks by restaurant critics with Time Magazine naming Searsucker the country’s #2 hottest restaurant in 2011.
Prior to opening his first restaurant in 2010, Chef Malarkey, a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu Portland, commanded the brigade at the Oceanaire Seafood Room where he garnered over 60 industry awards in five years. While there, he competed as a finalist on Top Chef Miami. Since then, he has hosted and guest starred on TLC, Travel Channel, BRAVO and OWN. He was also on ABC’s cooking competition show The Taste, as a judge/mentor alongside Anthony Bourdain, Nigella Lawson, and Ludo Lefebvre.
In looking forward in terms of what Chef Malarkey would like to achieve with Searsucker, he noted, “Our short-term goal is to get everyone to come check it out. Our long-term goals are to continue building a relationship with the community. It's a neighborhood restaurant so we want to continue reaching out to families and friends of Del Mar, Carmel Valley, and the other North County communities in hopes that they come visit us a few times a week.”