'The Original' Searsucker is Still As Hot As Ever in San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter

May 16, 2013

Searsucker is the flagship of Enlightened Hospitality Group's (EHG) fabric-themed restaurants.  Having opened in the summer of 2010, the Gaslamp hotspot solidified Top Chef finalist  Brian Malarkey's local stardom, making him one of the most recognized faces in town.   In less than three years, the duo of Malarkey and nightlife guru, James Brennan, has opened 5 more restaurants in San Diego (with Gingham recently closing), and two more Searsucker's abroad (Scottsdale and soon-to-open Austin).  Through a judge/mentor position on ABC's primetime cooking competition The Taste (which his team won), Malarkey's celebrity has continued to rapidly escalate over the past year.  Although we've been to Searsucker several times and profiled its lunch offerings, we have refrained from writing about dinner...until now.  
Designed by world renowned design firm, Thomas Schoos, Searsucker has a multifarious decor typical to EHG's restaurants and a fitting reflection of the eclectic nature of its owners.  Staged to evoke a trendy social dining experience, there are various table-types and seating options available to accommodate any number of guests.  A lounge area complete with comfy sofas sits between the bar and the main dining section.  Thick bristly ropes hang and sway from overhead light fixtures.   A countered, open kitchen bar allows patrons to watch the action, giving off the feel of an industrial, country diner.  Hip beats keep the ambiance centered, neither overbearing or underwhelming, and signs strewn around the interior remind diners to do what they came for..."EAT"!  There is rarely an open seat in the house and reservations are highly recommended.

Searsucker has a lengthy wine list, with a more elite "Cellar Offerings" menu available upon request.  If you want to bring in your favorite bottle, feel free to do so, but be mindful that a $25 corkage fee will be assessed.   Craft cocktails and infused liquors from in house cocktail firm Picks & Rocks are available from behind the bar.  Local craft beers come in draft and bottle, including a special Karl Strauss production named after Malarkey's son, the "Malarkey Hunter."  We began with two icy cold Stone Brewing Co. Cali-Belgique IPAs.  Big surprise, huh?  

When Searsucker first opened, Malarkey was usually seen running the show during dinner service, whether he was manning the kitchen, expediting the dishes or hobnobbing with diners.  Things have changed as his celebrity increased, and now it's somewhat of a rarity to see the man himself at his original restaurant.

For appetizers, the menu at Searsucker is split into Bites, Smalls, Greens.  The main courses are separated into Ocean, Ranch and Farm categories, with side courses listed under And.  We were served complimentary cheddar puffs and began making choices.  Really, we wanted to choose everything from the Smalls section, as each item sounds delicious, but we started with an appetizer of chicken + waffles ($14) - a large nugget of fried chicken perched atop a miniature Belgian waffle, surrounded by a skimp smattering of maple and garnished with micro-greens.  The dish was adorable, the chicken crisp, and the waffle sweet and tasty, but besides miniaturizing a comfort food favorite, so many things could have been done to make this dish unique - it felt all too ordinary - and c'mon with that maple syrup!

Every EHG fabric brand restaurant has its own version of shrimp and grits, so next up we tried Searsucker's take on the classic.  The shrimp "spicy" + bacon grits dish ($13) is rather ample (about 5 large crustaceans), consisting of tender shrimp, delicious bacon flavored grits, and a yummy, spicy sauce making this dish almost reminiscent of a jambalaya.  This was our favorite of the evening.  

From the mains, my beautiful partner chose the loin "filet" with lobster butter and a cognac sauce ($35).  The steak appeared almost gray, lacked seasoning, and wasn't seared on all sides like it should be.  I ordered the local yellowtail with crispy onions and chipotle and bleu cheese butter, and while the outer char was flavorful and delicious, I craved more of that flavor throughout as the rest of the protein was somewhat bland.    From the sides, we ordered the jalapeno-chorizo corn off the cob, which was spicy, creamy and absolutely delicious.  We also ordered the sugar snap peas and carrots, which were fresh and colorful, but lacked any memorable flavor.

I know we always preface our re-caps of dessert with the statement "we're not dessert people," but having come to know Pastry Chef Rachel King's expertise in the subject, we indulged.  The "King" Sundae is a sweet, decadent and totally shareable monstrosity of peanut butter ice cream, bacon honey caramel, bananas and whipped cream.  We also enjoyed the buttermilk tres leches with strawberry puree, vanilla rhubarb and a sweet strawberry sorbet.  Though the notoriously tough texture of the rhubarb threw me off, the cakes were insanely moist and delicious like shortcake, and reigned me right back in.

With the Enlightened Hospitality fabric named restaurants (Searsucker, Herringbone, Burlap), understand that the food is only part of the overall experience.  You're paying for the chance to be one of the 'it' crowd for an evening.  You're paying for perfect service and professionally designed ambiance.  Yes, the food is part of the sensory stimulation you'll receive during your meal, but there is much more to take in.  Our opinion, if you're thinking of trying a local EHG restaurant and are having trouble deciding,  go to Searsucker for the vibe, Herringbone for the decor, and Burlap for the food.

P.S. We've never been to Gabardine.

611 5th Avenue, Gaslamp
(619) 233-7327

Lunch:  Monday - Friday 11:30AM - 2:00PM
Dinner: Sunday - Thursday 5:30PM - 10:00PM, Friday - Saturday 5:30PM - 11:00PM
Bar: Daily 5:00PM - Close
Brunch: Sunday 10:00AM - 2:00PM, Bar Open 2:30PM-Close
Happy Hour: Monday - Friday 5PM-6:30PM

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