There’s a party in the dining room, a cocktail-swilling, snack-sampling get-together where groups blur, bites are passed and strangers meet. That’s how chef Brian Malarkey pictures a busy night at the new outpost of his popular eatery Searsucker, opening March 27 at Caesars Palace.
Malarkey, who grew up on a ranch in Oregon and became executive chef of San Diego’s Oceanaire Seafood Room at 30, parlayed a final-four performance on Top Chef into a budding restaurant empire. The flagship is Searsucker, a cowboy-chic concept built around playful takes on American cooking in an atmosphere that’s more dinner party than fine dining.
It’s a social scene, the chef says, “a lot of shared tables and people getting together and meeting each other and buying each other drinks and buying each other food.”
The broad menu is a mix of crowd-pleasers and conversation pieces—breakfast-for-dinner egg and bacon ($16) with bourbon-braised pork belly and brown-butter hollandaise or wild boar chops ($41) served with boar bacon waffles and blueberry gastrique. Cocktails are whimsical and fresh, featuring ingredients like pickled carrot and house-infused cucumber gin.
When a special menu designed around sending dishes to other tables debuts in April, you may be able to buy your neighbor duck-fat fries or the Cowboy Caviar—listed sans description—which is actually fried bull’s balls doused with Champagne mustard vinaigrette and served with fried veggies and onion jam. “People eat them and then they get hyped up,” Malarkey laughs. “They think they’ve really overcome a huge obstacle in life.”
Watching those kinds of reactions is one of the chef’s favorite things about Searsucker, where the kitchen is in the dining room. “As cooks, we work really hard and we don’t get paid as much as we think we deserve,” he says, “but the reward is you create a dish and you can watch it leave the window, you can watch it go to the guest and you can watch their reaction to eating it.”
MORE WITH MALARKEY!
Go-to drink: “Everyone who knows me knows this answer is pretty easy, it’s a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.”
Favorite food destination: “I don’t ever get tired of going to New York.”
Guilty pleasure: “Salami and cheese.”
Must-have tool: “A quality knife.”
Searsucker Caesars Palace, 702-866-1800. Daily, 5 p.m.-2:30 a.m. Opens March 27.