By Kelley CarlsonOne of North County’s newest restaurants, Burlap, appears to be cut from a different cloth. Opened in July by celebrity chef Brian Malarkey and James Brennan — who also collaborated on Searsucker in downtown San Diego — the social dining establishment carries an “Asian Cowboy” motif.
“Worldly, rugged, adventurous … that’s what I wanted to convey,” Malarkey said. Thomas Schoos designed the 9,000-square-foot space (formerly the home of Wherehouse Music in the Del Mar Highlands Town Center) with items from China, Thailand, South Africa, India, The Philippines, Japan and Brazil.
There are water buffalo skulls, Pakistani rugs, 200-year-old metal dragons, taxidermic specimens, a saddle, and oriental-patterned and animal-print cushions found throughout the restaurant; the establishment’s namesake “burlap” fabric is paneled on some of the interior walls. Authentic Chinese “Lion Dance” masks hang over the indoor bar, while the outdoor counterpart is inlaid with a dark brown, hand-carved, 19th century Indonesian wall.
Outside, patrons can lounge in chairs around a fire pit or dine at a table, and watch koi glide through a pond full of lily pads; bamboo surrounds the patio’s exterior.
The lively Burlap is often full of chatter — guests may easily migrate from the lounge to the main dining area, to each of the bars and outdoors. Progressive music played by a DJ can also be heard Thursdays through Saturdays.
A private dining room is available for those seeking more seclusion.
Malarkey noted that food can be eaten anywhere in the establishment. “You can stand up in the corner if you want to,” he said.
Burlap’s motto is where the “West Eats Meat”; the menu is heavy with Asian-influenced protein entrees, many of which contain ingredients such as ginger, soy and pepper. Malarkey’s favorites include the Dungeness Crab, with wasabi cocktail and avocado; Spicy Tuna-Crispy Rice, featuring albacore and spicy caper mayo; Whole “Angry” Snapper, containing serrano, orange, garlic and basil; Garlic Noodles; and Pork Belly with steamed bun, lime hoisin and pickled vege.
Some vegetable options are available, such as Heirloom Tomato & Tofu, Field Greens (strawberry, seven-spice walnuts, goat cheese and plum vinaigrette) and Enoki Mushroom (arugula, smoked soy vinaigrette).
“Completely kid-friendly” for lunch and early dinner Sunday through Wednesday, Burlap does not offer a children’s menu, according to Malarkey. However, the restaurant will prepare items like french fries, chicken satay and rice, for the youngsters.
Malarkey advises grown-ups to come in with friends and “work your way through the menu.” Try something new each time, he suggests, and then hang out in the lounge and order a mixed cocktail. Burlap’s signature drinks include the Shanghai Mule, made with Ty Ku sake, ginger beer, fresh lime juice and house-made Chinese five spice bitters; and the flaming Smoke and Mirrors Cocktail Co. Punch, which contains light and dark rums, Velvet Falernum, guava puree and pineapple juice.
Burlap tends to get booked, especially Thursday through Saturday nights, so Malarkey recommends reservations, although walk-ins are welcome to find a seat on a couch.
“There are so many things we offer,” he said. “We’re social, huge, there’s the decorations, the staff is warm and funny, the drinks are amazing. The food is over the top, unusual, fun and exciting. We’re the whole package.”
Address:12995 El Camino Real, Suite 21, Del Mar Heights
The Vibe:Social, Casual
Signature Dishes:Whole Roast Duck, Venison Carpaccio, Spicy Tuna-Crispy Rice, Short Rib, prime steaks
Open Since:Summer 2011
Hours:Brunch 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday-Friday Dinner 5-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 5-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday Bar 5 p.m. to close daily
Patio Seating: Yes
Take Out:Not Available
On The Menu RecipeEach week you’ll find a recipe from the featured restaurant online at lajollalight.com. Just click Get The Recipe at the bottom of the story. This week: Burlap’s Asian Cowboy Shrimp and Grits