When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out -- and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).
Restaurant: Searsucker Location: 6900 East Camelback Road Open: Almost a month Eats: New American cuisine Price: Over $50 per person
Searsucker is a nightclub-meets-restaurant kind of scene. A fashionable, vast space with sub-regions of lounge-y couch areas, a bar, an open kitchen, and a dining area where you're either lucky enough to get a cushioned seat or cursed with a bum-aching metal variety. And no matter where you are, Searsucker's blasting music is, unfortunately, right there with you.
From chef Brian Malarkey, a finalist on Bravo's Top Chef Miami in 2009, Searsucker Scottsdale is the second location of his restaurant (the first being in San Diego). Malarkey was there on the night of my visit (as well as some of the cast of Jersey Shore) and I got to ask him where he's been to eat in the Valley -- but more on that later.
Malarkey's "New American Classic" menu is a mix of eclectic dishes intended to be fun, with scant, tongue-in-cheek descriptions that often require further explanation from the server. You could make a meal out of an entree, a few small plates, or, if you're with a few pro-share friends, a little of each.
A cup of complimentary Cheddar Puffers, rolls with a crisp coating and an eggy, cheesy interior were just salty enough to warrant a cocktail or two. Unfortunately, a Peter Rabbit (Pimm's #1, bruised basil, pressed lemon, and pickled carrot) and a Latin Cinema (infused buttered popcorn tequila, pressed lime, and agave nectar) proved to be the most disappointing and forgettable part of the meal. Overflowing, filled to the rim with ice, and with nary a trace of booze, the two cocktails hardly justified their $12 and $11 price tags.
For adventurous types seeking small plates, there is Cowboy Caviar, or bull calf testicles ($8), where the chewy and slippery "Rocky Mountain Oysters" are coated and fried in a very good crunchy batter and served with crispy onions and streaks of mustard and balsamic; and four roasted marrow bones ($11) best enjoyed by scooping the molten marrow from the bones and onto crusty slices of bread sprinkled with salt and, if you prefer, an onion jam.
A more conventional selection is the Farm Bird Lollipops ($10). Essentially delicate chicken meatballs on sticks, they're dipped in a sweet, spicy coating and served with a bleu cheese sauce.
For an entree, three thick, succulent scallops ($34) are very good -- perfectly prepared and boasting a light, sweet flavor. Unfortunately, the accompanying housemade corned beef hash was as barely there in taste as it was on the plate.
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Service, although helpful, was lacking when it came to tasks such as clearing plates in a timely manner and refilling water glasses without being asked to. For such a pricey and high-profile restaurant, one should expect better.
Malarkey, as affable as he appears on TV, was there on the night of my visit, chatting with guests and signing copies of his new cookbook. When he visited my table, I asked him if he had an opportunity to visit any restaurants in the Valley. He told me he had been to Mastro's City Hall Steakhouse (out of convenience, given its location right across the street from Searsucker) and that he had good meals at The Mission, Roka Akor, and Crudo.
There are very good dishes at Searsucker, but they are not memorable ones. Most offer more in the way of generally pleasing tastes than subtle or unique flavors. And here, the booming, nightclub-like atmosphere seems as important to Malarkey as his food. Which, depending on what kind of experience you're after, makes Searsucker Scottsdale successful or worth skipping for something else.