Celebrating The Taste Championship | Team Malarkey Wins Again at Burlap

April 9, 2013

Brian Malarkey and Chef K showing off The Taste gold
We watched the first episode of ABC's The Taste with the man himself at the flagship of his fabric restaurants - Searsucker - all the while feeling proud to witness the blooming of San Diego's renowned Top Chef.  It's been less than three years since Brian Malarkey took this town by storm with the opening of Searsucker in the Gaslamp.  Since then, along with his business partner, James Brennan, the duo operating as Enlightened Hospitality Group has opened five more restaurants (Burlap, Gabardine, Gingham, Herringbone, and a Searsucker in Scottsdale, AZ), an office campus eatery (Green Acre), and they now have plans to open two more Searsucker locations in Austin and Los Angeles (possibly San Fran as well, based upon current rumors).  In addition to popping out restaurants like Gordon Ramsay on Ritalin, Malarkey has also partnered with other esteemed local chefs to open the Campine catering company.  He released his first cookbook in 2012, and to top it all off, he joined the likes of Anthony Bourdain as a mentor and judge on ABC's primetime cooking competition, The Taste.  As loyal San Diegans, we were rooting for Team Malarkey all season, and when his young Fillipino chef Khristianne Uy brought home the win, we knew it only meant great things would be coming to San Diego.  Shortly after The Taste finale, announcements were made that Malarkey would be hosting price fixed dinners with Chef K at three of his San Diego eateries.  We knew that the Burlap meal would not disappoint, as Chef Anthony Sinsay would be behind the curtains, ensuring that everything came out perfectly... and right we were.

It was a Friday night in Del Mar, and Chef K and her mentor Brian Malarkey roamed the bustling Burlap as starstruck patrons tracked them from room to room, watching the pair glide from table to table, charming their guests.  Excitement was high - a nearby table even brought the chefs gifts - a bottle of Jameson and a six-pack of Stella.  As usual, Chef Sinsay was seen holding down the heart of the restaurant, the windowed kitchen behind the bar alive and pumping out dish after dish, with the young executive chef ensuring that each came out to precise specification.

We started with a cleansing amuse bouche that invigorated the palate - a kumamoto shooter, featuring a smoked oyster chilled with white chocolate ponzu nitrous oxide, and topped with a colorful borage flower.  The offering was gorgeous and fitting for a meal centered around a competitive cooking show where participants are judged on a single bite.  Crisp, smoky, sweet, and savory - this little oyster shooter was packed with so much flavor. Paired with a Canals Canals Cava sparkling white from Spain, it enlivened the taste buds for the meal to come.  This amuse was truly a reflection of Chef Sinsay and the way he takes a simple concept and develops it with flawless technique and finesse. Bravo!

Between courses, we were thrilled to receive a visit from the vivacious Chef K and Brian Malarkey, who posed for photos and even shared some gossip about happenings behind the scenes on The Taste (Gregg and Sarah sitting in a tree...).  Chef K even told us some fun stories about her longtime experience as the personal chef of actor Charlie Sheen, who had been rumored to be visiting Burlap that evening.

For our first course, we were presented with a series of snacks and shares.  An artful plate of lavender cured snapper, rhubarb, olive oil preserved strawberries and black pepper meringue had elegantly subtle flavors that came together for a refreshing dish.  On a completely opposite spectrum,  savory lamb poutine was topped with petite basque cheese and served messily over triple cooked fries.  This dish was comforting and delicious, with bold flavors from the poutine mixing perfectly with what we deemed to be quite possibly the best fries we've ever had.  The third dish was a pair of adobo chicken liver arancini balls, fried golden and served on a smattering of onion confit.  Each dish from this course was awesome in a very different way, just like the Lost Abbey Red Barn ale they were served with.

Our next course was from the sea - a bowl of mussels swimming in a coconut broth infused with choriza and chilis, topped with cilantro micro greens and served with garlic bread for sopping.  Served with a sweet Albarino white from Condes De Albarei in Spain, this was a wonderful interlude before the mains - simple, light and refreshing.

From the land, we began with crispy brussels and fried pig ears in a Pedro Ximenez vin reduction accompanied by sliced radishes.  This dish was my least favorite of the night, as crunchy cartilage isn't really what I'm into, and the flavor of the dish as a whole failed to come together.  If the pig ears weren't intimidating enough, next we had  braised oxtail over pea risotto, garnished with pea tendrils, edible flowers, and topped with a charred onion.  I'm fairly new to adventurous eating, and while this dish tasted delicious, the vertebrae bones at the center of my cut of oxtail was more than I could handle.  It wouldn't have been an issue if the bone was removed or the meat was melt in your mouth tender, but I couldn't get over it as is.  All that said, my date did seem to thoroughly enjoy the oxtail. For me, the '09 Syrah from Barrel was the star of this course - bold and beautiful.  

Like the start, dessert was perfect.  Deserving of her Forbes recognition, Chef Rachel King's concoction featured caramelized white chocolate mouse, vanilla poached rhubarb, fresh cara cara orange slices and a scoop of pistachio ice cream.   After a summer in Italy, I became a pistachio ice cream (gelato) snob, and this was one of the best ever, not to outshine the other components of the dish, each lively and delicious and all coming together for a fun and playful ending to a glorious dining experience.  Add a house made bubblegum rum punch to the ambrosia, and a grand finale it was.

Malarkey's restaurant concepts certainly combine entertainment with eating, and Burlap has one of the finest chef's in town manning its brigade, so the addition of Chef K only made the night that much more exciting.  For $75 plus $25 for drink pairings, this meal was an event to cherish.  Thank you, Team Malarkey!

Burlap is located at 12995 El Camino Real in Del Mar.