This blog not only chronicles the food we cook at home, but it also will have some spotlights of restaurants that we’ve been to.
Recently Jax and I travelled to San Diego for a week, and took the opportunity to hit up a couple restaurants whose executive chefs have been featured on Top Chef (and other TV programmes, such as The Taste.) Chef Brian Malarkey of TC Season 3, and Chef Richard Blais of TC Season 4 and 8 each have restaurants in this city, and we couldn’t wait to hit them up! We’ve always liked Malarkey for his hipster personality, and loved Blais for his crazy looking dishes on the show.
Enough of the preamble, lets get to the review, throw down style!
Juniper & Ivy (Blais): Oysters and Pearls / Pork Sausage
Searsucker (Malarkey): Crab Cake Jumbo Lump / Marrow Bone
For this round, we can easily compare the two restaurants head to head, as we ordered one seafood, and one meat appy from each place. Lets start with the shellfish first.
The highlight of Searsucker’s crab cake was that there was no filler in it. This was a huge selling point for me, due to my food allergy. The amount that was given was also a plus. The slaw was meh. It did nothing for the dish. The tartar sauce was great though. Overall a solid 7.5/10
The oysters at Juniper & Ivy showcased some of that molecular gastronomy that made us love Blais. Kimchi gel balls that melted in your mouth? Awesome! They used BC Kusshi oysters which were good. (Whenever I go to buck-a-shuck here I always hope the Kusshi’s are on instead of Fanny Bay, which unfortunately seems to be the norm.) The red wine mignonette was a little weak compared to the kimchi balls. Still, I give it 9/10 for the way the kimchi was presented!
The meat was a little more of a disappointment.
Searsucker’s Marrow Bone (argh! call it BONE MARROW dammit!) was much too sweet for my liking. Everything else around the marrow was great, but I couldn’t get past the sweetness. For a better bone marrow in the SD area, go to the hipster gastropub Craft & Commerce — their bone marrow is absolutely perfect. This one, not so much. 6/10
Juniper & Ivy’s pork sausage wasn’t great either. I was not satisfied by it at all. I could make a better one at home. I have nothing to say about it, because it was completely unmemorable. 5/10
Winner of appetizer course: Juniper & Ivy, on the strength of the Oysters.
MAIN / ENTREES
Juniper & Ivy: New York Steak / Berkshire Pork Shoulder
Searsucker: Mahi Mahi Baja / Pork Butt
Things get a little more muddled here, as we had one seafood dish at Searsucker, and two meat dishes at Juniper & Ivy. Still, we must press on, and choose a winner between the two!
On the recommendation of our waitress, saying that the Mahi Mahi Baja was Malarkeys personal favourite meal, we ordered that. Jax enjoyed it more than I did. It was cooked nicely, however the seasoning was not uniform throughout. It was saltier towards the ends of the fish, and had no seasoning towards the middle. This ruined it for me, as I need flavour! The accompaniments with it couldn’t save that flaw. 6/10.
The NY Steak was better for certain. Bone marrow bread pudding? Sunny side up egg? Its as if they catered this dish towards Asians! Jax ordered this, so she got medium rare which was cooked as we expected it to be. Personally I would’ve preferred blue rare with a char on the outside. Still, it was a good steak. 8/10
Now a real head-to-head battle — the battle of pork!
The pork butt at Searsucker was sold to us as another favourite of the chef, so we couldn’t wait to try it! Definitely a generous portion, get this if you are hungry. The meat was cooked well — nice and soft throughout, and fell apart using only a fork. When we had it, we both enjoyed it for what it was — a filling solid entrée. 8/10
Juniper & Ivy’s pork one-upped Searsucker. The main difference? The pork had fat in it! This was paramount in the flavour and texture profile. By choosing a cut with a nice layer of fat, it made us think it had pork belly in it! The apple slice was also a smart pairing with it. Flavour wise, this had more in every bite. Pork vs pork, this one clearly won out. 9/10
Winner of Main/Entrée course: Juniper & Ivy
Juniper & Ivy: Duck Egg Raviolo
Searsucker: Jalapeno Chorizo Corn Off The Cob
These came at different times, for different purposes. The Raviolo was more of an intermezzo course, while the Corn was a side for the pork entrée.
First off, the Jalapeno Chorizo corn was fantastic for me. It was too spicy for Jax. She’s not writing this review, so I get to say that it was AWESOME 🙂 As a side dish, I was impressed with the heat and flavour. 9/10
The ravioli was also impressive. Runny eggs make me happy. Great flavour. Great texture. 9/10
After cut, look at the yolk run out!
Winner of additional course: DRAW
Juniper & Ivy: Yodel / Apple Tart
Searsucker: Brown Butter Cake
Only one dessert caught our eye at Searsucker, while Juniper & Ivy had two things that we wanted. Just like in Top Chef, will having 2 dishes be a detriment to our review? lets see!
Searsucker’s brown butter cake was phenomenal. I’m a sweets-type-of-guy, and let me tell you, this played right to my taste buds. That cake is something I would love to eat every night. I can’t describe how good it was, because it would be an injustice. The ice cream was also good, but the star was the cake. 10/10
What is a Yodel you ask? Well, glad you asked. It’s a chocolate log cake, with white chocolate and hazelnut brittle, covered in a thing layer of dark chocolate. At tableside, the waitress pours a cup of hot chocolate over the dark chocolate log, melting it and revealing the cake inside. Presentation wise? Outstanding. Taste wise? Also outstanding! This is the type of creative cooking that we wanted to experience! 10/10 for the whole package.
Now the second dessert we ordered wasn’t nearly as impressive. the bacon streusel was very average. I’m a sucker for everything bacon, including desserts. Unfortunately, every bacon dessert I’ve sampled has left me underwhelmed. The cheddar ice cream was too mild for my liking. I wanted there to be more of a punch. 6/10
Winner of dessert course: Searsucker. If we didn’t have the apple tart, Juniper & Ivy would’ve had the edge.
Taking everything into consideration, we had a clear favourite that we would go back to in a heartbeat.
Overall winner: Juniper & Ivy
One note I’d like to make to all restaurants in SD: TURN UP THE LIGHTS! Every restaurant was so dark! Rant Over.