Surprisingly absent in California’s southern-most city, is a rich oyster culture—one that is deeply engrained in coastal communities such as the Puget Sound of Washington State, or the Chesapeake Bay of Virginia and Maryland. Executive Chef Jason McLeod’s goal at Ironside Fish & Oyster is to reintroduce this culture with an approachable raw-bar concept in San Diego—a known seaport city, born from the local fishing industry that once existed as the tuna capital of the US.
THE CHEF — Oyster liquor runs rampant through Jason McLeod’s veins. Born and raised along the seafood-abundant coastlines of British Colombia, a mere 90 minutes south of Fanny Bay, McLeod was spoiled at a young age with plenty of local catch, but his favorite, undoubtedly, was the oyster – always unadorned, the most authentic taste of the sea. With over 25 years of culinary experience under his toque, Jason has traveled the world to train with several of the most prestigious chefs in the industry, including culinary icons Raymond Blanc and Marco Pierre White. While Ironside will be Chef McLeod’s first venture as an owner, it will certainly not be his first foray into developing a concept focused largely on seafood. In 2009 as the opening executive chef of RIA in Chicago’s 5-Star Elysian Hotel, McLeod led a luxurious seafood-driven restaurant from being relatively unknown, to receiving two Michelin stars during its first year of operation—an honor that only two other restaurants in Chicago (Charlie Trotter’s and Avenues) were awarded that year.
KITCHEN + CUISINE — Creating thought-provoking concepts with progressive design, CH Projects spared absolutely no expense to transform the 4,500 square foot, 1920s-era warehouse. At the epicenter of Ironside’s $1.8 million build out, an impressive raw bar is one of three open-air culinary hubs, offering guests a daily changing menu of bivalves, oyster flights, crudos, crab claws, seafood platters, house made mignonettes and more.
Fostering a shared space of communal interaction and education, an in-house bakery and European-style open kitchen each features their own unique chef’s table, and a five-foot live lobster tank houses crustaceans from the coasts of Baja, Maine and beyond. Alongside the raw bar and bakery, McLeod’s culinary program features an extensive menu of seafood-heavy specialties feature Beer Braised Mussels with Andouille sausage, Fried Oyster Po Boy, Shrimp Bahn Mi, a Lobster Roll – in addition to more traditional classics like “Daily Catch” served a la plancha or grilled, Seafood Chowder, Fish & Chips and more.
IN-HOUSE ARTISANAL BREAD PROGRAM — Ironside’s impressive in-house bakery is led by Pastry Chef Donna Antaloczy. Antaloczy has gathered invaluable “Old World” knowledge about the art of baking at acclaimed kitchens throughout the country including Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery, Daniel Humm’s Eleven Madison Park, Christophe Eme’s former Ortolan Restaurant, Gordon Ramsay’s The London NYC, and David Kinch’s Manresa – where she trained under famed head baker Avery Ruzicka and pastry chef Stephanie Prida who’ve propelled the “Manresa Bread Project” to celebrity status. Antaloczy’s bread program weaves its distinctive, high-quality ingredients into all aspects of Ironside’s menu, offering up items ranging from fresh hearth loaves, porridge breads, brioche and lobster rolls.
FORTIFIED ON ALL FRONTS — CH Projects is respected for turning out some of the best and most ambitious bar programs in the county (“Cocktail Bar of the Year,” Imbibe Magazine’s Imbibe 75; “The Best Bars in America,” Esquire Magazine; Top 50 Bars in the Country,” Food & Wine; “Beer Bar of the Year,” Nightclub & Bar Awards). Ironside’s cocktail menu, helmed by Bar Manager Leigh Lecap, pays tribute to a resurgence of sherrys, ports and Madeiras, with more than 90 different fortified wines proudly gracing Ironside’s 14-foot overarching, steel bar trellis. A viscous beverage traditionally enjoyed as a digestif, Lecap translates the natural affinity between fortified wines and spirits into a selection of “Fortified” cobbler cocktails. This re-imagined take on the beloved and uniquely American sherry cobbler is a resurgent “lost art” among bartenders, cocktail enthusiasts and general imbibers.
COCKTAILS ON THE HALF SHELL — Alongside a handful of “Fortified” creations, Ironside’s bar menu showcases over 50 unique cocktails divided into categories such as “Uplifting”, “Stimulating”, “Hold Fast”, “Seaworthy” and “Cocktails On The Halfshell” – a single raw oyster served alongside a lively concoction of restorative qualities. The menu is designed to give imbibers a variety of options to compliment each aspect of their meal from start to finish. Pouring from the bar’s 26 taps are 16 beers, eight wines, one draft cocktail and ice-cold coffee on draft in partnership with Coffee & Tea Collective.
THE HAPPIEST OF HOURS & LATE NIGHT EATS — Happy Hour: Nothing beats a fresh platter of oysters over ice, unless those oysters happen to come at the low price of a dollar apiece! Oyster happy hour is sure to become one of Ironside’s favorite pastimes, offering a selection of $1 oysters from the raw bar Monday through Friday from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Late Night Eats: While Ironside’s last seating is at 10 p.m., the raw bar will stay open alongside the cocktail bar until midnight Sunday through Thursday and until 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights, offerings the freshest of bivalves, oyster flights, crudos, crab claws and more.
DESIGN — Underscoring the collaborative spirit that Ironside aims to restore, CH Projects once again commissioned brick-and-mortar guru Paul Basile of Basile Studio (Craft & Commerce, UnderBelly, Polite Provisions and Soda & Swine) to visually convey the collective’s essential spirit and philosophy. From custom, plasma cut barstools and copper tabletops, to the 14-foot-tall overarching steel bar trellis, Ironside’s deliberately intricate and intellectually stimulating décor includes experimental design elements that Basile himself customized and fabricated in his East Village warehouse. Five massive floor-to-ceiling steel flip doors at the front of the building can be lifted to create an open concept restaurant that faces the bustling avenue, and a 15-foot marble countertop near the open-aire kitchen transforms into a 14 seat communal table with outwardly swinging bar seats that discreetly hover below the countertop. For Paul Basile, it’s all in the details – and with Ironside’s design, functionality is kept top of mind, translating into dollars and cents.
HOURS OF OPERATION:
Open 7 days a week
Monday through Friday | 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Saturday + Sunday | 10 a.m. to 3p.m.
Daily | 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Cocktail Bar + Raw Bar
All Day to Midnight, Sunday through Thursday
All Day to 2 a.m., Friday + Saturday
Oyster Happy Hour | Monday through Friday, 3 to 6 p.m., $1 oysters