A thriving fishing colony in the early 1900s, Little Italy is one of San Diego’s oldest and most storied neighborhoods. Nestled in the heart of this flourishing district is a 4,500 square foot 1920s-era warehouse, previously occupied for decades by Ironside, the former wrought-iron gate-makers. The structure is the last industrial space in the immediate area to be redeveloped, and will soon open doors as Ironside Fish & Oyster, a raw bar, bakery and restaurant launching in February 2014.
In partnership with CH Projects, a leading hospitality group widely noted for their avant-garde contributions to the national cocktail community (Noble Experiment, Polite Provisions, Craft & Commerce, Underbelly), Chef Jason McLeod makes a much-anticipated return as Executive Chef and Partner of Ironside Fish & Oyster. While Ironside will be McLeod’s first venture as an owner, it will certainly not be his first foray into developing a concept focused largely on seafood. In 2011 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.
Ironside Oyster will be the first culinary-focused, chef-driven addition to CH Projects’ cocktail-heavy repertoire. McLeod, who made headlines when he departed from RIA to re-locate to San Diego in early 2011, has spent the past year and a half quietly creating order in the back of house for CH’s establishments as corporate chef. Now stepping down from his overarching role, McLeod is the perfect choice to debut the group’s first full-service restaurant project, putting his Michelin fame back into action where it belongs—in the heart of the house.
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. McLeod’s goal at Ironside 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.
“I’ve spent years working in fine dining establishments around the world, but with Ironside, I want to create a more approachable concept that embodies my own tastes and personality,” says McLeod. “I want our guests to feel comfortable coming in a few nights a week, but most importantly, I want my food to resonate with my them.”
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, but it was while living in England, cooking in arguably some of the top restaurants in the world, that Jason discovered the true test of a good chef: exceling as the Poissonnier, or fish chef.
“I remember being promoted to fish cook and for the first time I worked with live scallops in the shell and live langoustines from nearby Scotland,” says McLeod. “Cooking and handling seafood requires much greater finesse and your timing needs must be impeccable.”
Creating thought-provoking bar concepts with progressive design, CH Projects has spared absolutely no expense to create what is quickly becoming San Diego’s greatest anticipated restaurant of the New Year.
“Ironside will be the most ambitious culinary program we’ve cultivated to date, and with that brings a certain degree of vulnerability,” says CH co-owner, Arsalun Tafazoli. “We’re exploring new territory here, and we welcome the opportunity to learn and evolve. Paired with a world-class chef & partner, Jason McLeod, at the end of the day, our hope is that the product and experience will speak for itself.”
At its epicenter, the raw bar will be one of three open-air culinary hubs within the restaurant, offering guests a menu of bivalves, oyster flights, crudos, crab claws, house made mignonettes and more. Fostering a shared space of communal interaction and education, an in-house bakery and European-style open kitchen will each feature their own unique chef’s table, and a five-foot live lobster tank will house crustaceans from the coasts of Baja, Maine and beyond. Alongside the raw bar and bakery, McLeod’s culinary program will feature an extensive menu of seafood-heavy entrees and shared plates like the Big Eye Tuna Belly with quail egg, fennel, tomato, pickled mushrooms and artichoke; Roast Local Spiny Lobster with Parisienne gnocchi, uni emulsion and chanterelle mushrooms; and Baja Bay Scallop Ceviche with confit heirloom tomatoes, pickled shallots, marcona almonds and rosemary.
Ironside will offer a top-notch spirit and cocktail program that is synonymous with the CH brand. Imbibers can look forward to a lineup of champagne cocktails, fortified wines, sherries, cobblers, coffee cocktails in partnership with Coffee & Tea Collective and some simple play on tiki drinks, helmed by Bar Manager Leigh Lacap, formally of Craft & Commerce pedigree.
Underscoring the collaborative spirit that Ironside aims to restore, the team has once again commissioned the immensely gifted brick-and-mortar guru, Paul Basile (Craft & Commerce, UnderBelly, Polite Provisions and Soda & Swine), to visually convey CH’s essential spirit and philosophy.
“Design and environment are extraordinarily important to us as a restaurant group, and we look at them as a living, breathing thing that should be respected as such,” says Arsalun Tafazoli. “Ultimately our spaces are filled with objects and art we love and care for, and Ironside will be no different. We do want to experiment with color and make the space friendly. I’m currently re-reading 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea and I like to think it would fit into the fabric of that story.”
Ironside Fish & Oysters is located at 1604 India Street. For more information, visit consortiumholdings.com.