Searsucker emphasizes social aspects of dining

When I consider all of the food competitions on TV these days, I can’t help but think of the Carrie Underwoods and Kelly Clarksons of the world, who probably still would be unknowns if a TV contest hadn’t put them in the spotlight. It has become the millennials’ path to success.

And in the culinary world as well, which brings us to Brian Malarkey, executive chef of Searsucker at Caesars Palace. Malarkey was classically trained and beginning to make his way in the world, but a turn as a “Top Chef” finalist, followed by a number of other Food Network appearances, led to him opening more than seven restaurants in about four years, which would be an accomplishment for even the most established chef.

In Las Vegas, Malarkey has Searsucker at Caesars Palace, and it, too, seems to personify the millennial way of life — which can, at times, be quite comfortable for everyone else. There’s an emphasis on the social; “Searsucker isn’t a place to get away, it’s a place to get together,” management proclaims, and they support that with communal tables, a casual rustic/industrial feel (think Edison bulbs suspended from heavy rope), friendly staff and a soothing, not-too-loud, something-for-everyone playlist.

And a nice variety of small plates. Though entrees are available, if you’ve been reading me long you know I tend to gravitate to small plates for the variety they provide, as well as the convivial spirit that comes with sharing — the social aspect, as stated above. We weren’t about to resist.

But first there was a little bread basket, and in it were gougeres, cheesy puffs that are classic and maybe a little old-fashioned. These had been given new life with a cheddar-y foundation and enough seasoning to kick them right into the 21st century.

Toast + cheese + tomato soup ($12) was, as I had suspected, a grilled-cheese sandwich accompanied by the soup. But this sandwich (actually 1½ sandwiches) was the best grilled cheese you’ve ever had, slices of hearty artisanal bread stuffed with a blend of cheeses that made biting a string-producing experience. And the soup, with the flavor of tomatoes right off the vine, was topped with a float of basil oil for another layer of flavor.

Strawberry + Champagne + walnut + goat cheese ($13) under the “greens” section was obviously a salad, and turned out to be a very well-executed one, the variety of dark field greens tossed with a profusion of berries and cheese morsels and a bracing Champagne vinaigrette.

The requisite short-rib offering ($16) was dubbed “the harlot,” we guess because it was accompanied by horseradish and fried onions, and was another well-prepared dish, the short ribs appropriately tender and onions appropriately crisp, although the horseradish should have been a little more aggressive to earn that label.

Our only disappointment was in the execution of the beef tartare ($16, and by now I’m wearying of typing plus signs). The seasoned raw beef and accompanying pickled radishes and mustard were very nice. But somebody was trying too hard here; while beef tartare normally has egg yolk mixed in, this one was served with a raw quail yolk on top. Mixing it on the plate, though, wasn’t sufficient to incorporate the two, and so we ended up with the beef, and a smear of raw egg yolks. But that was a minor quibble, and one that could be easily addressed by the kitchen.

Whenever I hear Malarkey’s name, I can’t help think of my grandmother. Along with her German expletives she employed some old-timey ones, including, “That’s a bunch of malarkey” when one of us tried to put one over on her.

In Grandma’s usage it was, of course, a negative. In the case of Searsucker, it’s solidly positive.

Las Vegas Review-Journal restaurant reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Email Heidi Knapp Rinella at Hrinella@reviewjournal.com. Find more of her stories at www.reviewjournal.com and follow @HKRinella on Twitter.

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