Published on October 26th, 2012 | by Gary Rice
Cowboy Up for Asian Eats @ Burlap – Del Mar
Burlap Del Mar Review
Chef Brian Malarkey has done it again, indeed. His bold and risky approach to cuisine; a characteristic that we have already encountered at his uber-trendy Searsucker in the Gaslamp, can also be found in his latest brainchild, Burlap, located in Del Mar. Searsucker, as you may be aware, has become so successful that approaching its doors without a reservation will surely earn you the stink eye from its hosting staff. It’s not uncommon to find its lounge and bar area to be standing room only. Burlap seems to be well on its way to meeting its sister’s stature in that regard. But don’t misunderstand me; both restaurants are distinctively different, and the two can clearly be distinguished by their respective menus. Malarkey describes Burlap’s menu as “Asian Cowboy cuisine.” In other words, he, like many other culinary artists across the country, felt compelled to dabble in Asian fusion, an approach that has regrettably gained a lot of traction across San Diego’s culinary landscape over the years.
If you can’t already tell, I am woefully critical about Asian fusion. Why, you ask, gentle reader? It’s because it’s usually executed poorly. In terms of fusion décor, attempts at melding the themes and textures of the East and West typically produce garish displays. I’m never surprised to walk into an Asian fusion restaurant and find in its space painful explosions of decorative stereotypes. In regards to fusion cuisine, the flavors are often forced, rather than “fused,” thereby showcasing plated constructions, more often than not, that are either over-represented by one particular region, or merely tied together by a singular sauce. The key to successful fusion is balance and subtlety, and sadly it’s rarely achieved. Why this approach remains in vogue is a mystery to me, really. Yet, every now and then I stumble upon a dining venue that manages to get it right. In comes Burlap.
To Whet Your Appetite…
It’s obvious that Burlap’s décor was thoughtfully planned. I found a space that successfully weaved the rich, eclectic color palettes of the East with accented subtleties of the West. Contemporary indoor and outdoor bars, highlighted by Chinese headpieces, lanterns from the Middle East, and other nuances are prime examples of its tasteful design. Layered over the décor is the ambience. I was initially befuddled to walk into the restaurant, beholding the beautiful, exotic furnishings, to find a vibe and music that embodied San Diego’s laid back, beach-y persona. That was unexpected, but so refreshing.
A good measuring stick of any restaurant is its happy hour. Walking in around 5pm, I seated myself at one of the outdoor bars. A friend and I both opted to try the following:
Cobb Salad Spring Rolls ($8): Sheer genius! The classic Cobb is the epitome of an American favorite. I would have never dreamed that stuffing it in rice paper would be so staggeringly delicious. If given the opportunity, I could seriously propel those, nonstop, into the fat, gaping hole in my face all day long without coming up for air. They are really *that* dangerous.
Burger& Fries ($10): Cooked to medium, per our specification, the burger was fairly good, but left me confused. I couldn’t detect anything about the burger that would necessarily distinguish it from something you could obtain from any other mediocre restaurant. Notwithstanding, the side of sweet potato fries it came with were divine, thereby doing a superb job of quelling the impatient groans of my tummy.
Shrimp & Grits ($14): A Middle Eastern twist on the American Southern classic, and a work of art. Burlap’s version of shrimp & grits consists of the obvious two ingredients, accented by bacon lardon, green onion, 7 spice, and a lovely poached egg seated right in the middle. Busting the yoke is part of the experience, thereby allowing the rich, yellow gold to spirit the dish to an entirely new level. Indeed, it’s sheer bliss embodied on a plate. For a brief moment, after the majority of the grits had been consumed, I considered abandoning all etiquette to bring the plate to my face and lick it clean. Luckily, though, I had only consumed one glass of wine and my sensibilities were still relatively intact.
Happy Hour Cocktails: Infusion cocktails are only $5. Select wines by the glass are ½ off. I opted for a lovely cabernet that managed to take the edge off a long, tiring week. Perfect.
Burlap’s website states that it “…embraces the relaxed North County San Diego vibe.” That may very well be true. I would argue, however, that the vibe it’s trying to emulate is not particular to North County, though. Most of us know that San Diego’s languid, playful persona spans throughout its vast county, and Burlap should be applauded for capturing it in a space that splendidly represents our fair city. Without a doubt, Malarkey has outdone himself in creating both a relaxing retreat and foodie playground that will keep me coming back for more.
12995 El Camino Real
Del Mar, Ca. 92130
Mon-Fri 11:30am – 2pm
Mon-Wed, Sun 5pm – 9pm
Thu 5pm – 10pm
Fri-Sat 5pm – 11pm
Sun 10am – 3pm