Named after the previous tenant of the 1920’s–era warehouse, Ironside Metal Supply, Ironside Fish and Oyster is the most recent restaurant innovation of executive chef and partner Jason McLeod. Little Italy, which is historically a fishing village, didn’t have a single oyster bar or seafood joint amongst its dozens of restaurants. McLeod noted the missing link and decided to make a change. He created a menu chock–full of local seafood, including lobster rolls, clam chowder and a raw bar with up to eight oyster varieties. “San Diego is a known seaport city born from a local fishing industry that was once famous as the tuna capital of America,” says McLeod. “My goal at Ironside has been to reintroduce an oyster culture and approachable raw bar concept to the city’s dining scene.” The building and interior boast meticulously crafted design details and the bar menu showcases over fifty unique craft and fortified cocktails, making Ironside the preeminent dining destination in San Diego.
All of the seafood at Ironside is as sustainable as possible. McLeod works closely with local fisherman in San Diego and Santa Monica Seafood to follow the Monterey Aquarium Safe List. Diners often stop at the live lobster tank, housing crustaceans from the coasts of Baja, Maine and beyond. Also available is live sea urchin from Baja and the San Diego coast. McLeod works directly with local suppliers such as Suzie’s Farms and Mary’s Chicken for access to the freshest ingredients. “We believe it’s our duty to do the best we can to support local purveyors and farmers and feel that we do a great job of providing our guests with as much local produce in our dishes as possible.”
Ironside recently debuted their exclusive “Ironside Select,” a custom oyster that was created from seed to delicious briny bivalve with Minterbrook Oyster Company out of the Puget Sound in Washington State. Ironside Selects are hand–farmed throughout the harvesting process. The oysters are then sorted, graded and placed in special trays. These trays are placed back in the salt water for a period of time, which minimizes the time out of the water prior to shipment and regenerates chips in the shells. This careful process helps to ensure that the oysters will arrive fresh and strong. The distinctive flavor profile of this special oyster is mild and sweet, with a smooth finish and a touch of brine.
Born and raised along the seafood–abundant coastline of British Columbia, a mere ninety 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 twenty–five 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 is Chef McLeod’s first venture as an owner, it certainly was not 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.
McLeod says he’s aiming for an approachable take on seasonal seafood, from whole golden–spotted bass to scallop ceviche with fresh citrus, pickled tomatoes, avocados and olives. Alongside a healthy selection of raw bar items, including oysters, clams, uni, abalone and crab claws, the menu offers a varied choice of soups, salads and sandwiches.
Guests can opt for anything from shrimp and pork bahn mi and lobster sliders to fish and chips or beer–braised mussels. A daily catch of mahi mahi, snapper, yellowtail bass and swordfish is offered grilled or cooked a la plancha.
Aside from oysters, McLeod says his favorite dish is any whole fish offering that’s on the menu, served grilled. The biggest showstopper of the restaurant is the oyster happy hour offering a selection of $1 oysters from the raw bar Monday through Friday from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. On Friday and Saturday nights, the raw bar stays open (alongside the cocktail bar) with bivalves, oyster flights, crudos and crab claws on offer until 2:00 a.m.
This story by Maria Desiderata Montana first appeared in the April issue of Fine Magazine. Ironside Fish and Oyste