Las Vegas loves successful restaurants from other cities. The latest to move here is Searsucker in Caesars Palace. Celebrity chef Brian Malarkey operates several restaurant concepts, and opened the first Searsucker in San Diego’s Gaslamp District before adding branches in Del Mar and Austin, Texas. The menu at the funky original is fun and creative, with plenty of seafood, but also a lot of heavier dishes with a down-and-dirty, almost Southern influence. That combination works amazingly well among the casual hipsters of the Gaslamp. But our local Searsucker is a companion to the new multimillion-dollar Omnia nightclub, so I was curious to see how it would adjust to that crowd.
The new restaurant has a similarly eclectic décor as the original, seamlessly blending rustic touches, classic Americana and modern chic. I love the antique-looking bare lightbulbs strung randomly from rope, the lush topiary, the open kitchen and the outward-facing bar that’s perfect for people watching.
When Top Chef alum Malarkey’s not in town, the Searsucker pass is in the hands of chef J.P. Labadie, who has run numerous Las Vegas kitchens, including those at Emeril’s Fish House, Marche Bacchus and Garfield’s. The three menus he and his boss have assembled (happy hour, dinner and late night) borrow heavily from those in San Diego, packed with fun small plates and salads, as well as a full entrée section among the dinner offerings.
Plenty of dishes here are just as heavy and filled with gusto as what I remember from San Diego. Take, for example, Eggs + Bacon: a decadent take on eggs Benedict made with a poached egg, pork belly that’s been brined in apple cider vinegar and spices for 24 hours, and rich chive Hollandaise on toasted brioche. Or revel in the fork-tender braised pork butt served with whiskey-soaked green apples and a bacon emulsion (basically, mayo made with bacon fat instead of oil). Simple fries are extra crispy, having been bathed in duck fat, then sprinkled with Parmesan. Hell, even a basic piece of mahi mahi is topped with a thick, sweet demi-glace of red cherries and wine, rich smoked almonds and an orange salad.
But my favorite dish is the Cowboy Caviar. What the menu doesn’t tell you is that these are melt-in-your-mouth fried calves’ testicles. The balls are rich and well-seasoned, but they’re made even better by a crispy accompanying salad of fried carrots and greens and a gloriously sweet onion jam.
Still, plenty of dishes are lighter and a bit less bold. The late-night shrimp “ceviche” was created in deference to local clubbers who don’t want to be weighed down before they hit the dance floor. But, as the menu notes, it’s not truly a ceviche as the shrimp are actually blanched rather than being cured in citrus. The requisite citrus juice, chili peppers and tomatillos are sparingly added afterward, and the result is much milder than a traditional ceviche.
A few other dishes lacked the kick I would have liked, particularly a rather bland steak tartare that really needed either some salt or some heat. (Fortunately the light tuna poke contains not only radish and pine nuts, but a mildly spicy dash of vinaigrette and sambal pepper paste.) The only real failure so far has been a loin filet topped with a so-called lobster butter that was little more than a lobster cake. (Isn’t butter to supposed to melt?) Which is sad, since the steak itself was pretty decent.
Searsucker still seems to be finding its way in Las Vegas, but the team is off to a good start, offering something for just about every palate. Service has been great, and the food quite good—although not always good enough to live up to its sometimes hefty price tags. I doubt that will matter, however, to club kids preparing for a night of bottle service.
Al’s Menu Picks
- Cowboy Caviar ($11)
- Egg + Bacon “Pork Belly” ($16)
- Tuna + Radish + Pine Nuts + Spice ($16)
- Pork butt ($26)
In Caesars Palace, 702-866-1800, Searsucker.com. Open nightly for happy hour 4:30-6 p.m. and dinner 5 p.m.-late. Dinner for two, $50-$150.