Ironside Chef dishes on his new restaurant and raw bar
Kai Oliver-Kurtin | Downtown News
Little Italy’s newest restaurant, Ironside Fish & Oyster, has splashed onto the dining scene with Executive Chef Jason McLeod at the helm.
As the only raw bar in the area, McLeod hopes to bring an oyster culture to the neighborhood that’s history is rooted in the tuna fishing industry. Ironside has a unique open-layout concept that places three culinary hubs inside the dining room: a raw bar, bakery and European-style open kitchen.
Ironside is the newest project from hospitality group Consortium Holdings (CH) that has brought other successful eateries to the region, such as Craft & Commerce, Neighborhood and UnderBelly, among others. McLeod has also served as executive chef at The Grand Del Mar, but Ironside is his first venture as a restaurant owner.
Kai Oliver-Kurtin (SDDN): How did this newest culinary project come to life?
Jason McLeod (JM): I met Arsalun Tafazoli (co-founder of CH) about two-and-a-half years ago. We started out as friends and then I ended up joining CH, and this project [Ironside] came about not long after. Originally we planned to open a breakfast place, but we started talking about what San Diego really needed. We have such a bounty of seafood here, but it’s mostly at high-end steakhouses — there wasn’t really a seafood restaurant with a mid-market price point. So that was our goal, and I fit in what CH is all about, too.
SDDN: How would you describe the menu at Ironside?
JM: Fresh. It’s constantly changing. After the first month, there are six or seven things on the menu that will be stable and won’t change. We have more fish suppliers here than suppliers for the entire group of CH restaurants. All seafood suppliers specialize in something specific, and we need a high volume of a variety of seafood. We want guests to be able to get a mix of what they want without having a 300-item menu. It’s a simple menu — there’s not a lot of masking with garnishes and sauces. When you order fish, you’re going to get a piece of fish. We put ourselves out there and let the food speak for itself.
SDDN: Why did you decide on a seafood/oyster-focused restaurant?
JM: I’m from the west coast of Canada and grew up in oyster beds, and spot prawn and salmon fishing on an island. That’s what I was around so it’s in my blood. But Ironside was really more about what San Diego needed.
SDDN: What’s the general response from diners been since opening in April?
JM: Overall, for the amount of volume we’ve done so far, it’s been very positive. We’ve had some constructive criticism but it hasn’t been anything that was a surprise. We’ve gotten lots of good feedback and have evolved because of it. At Ironside we’re going to do more than double what our other CH projects do. This is new for us in terms of sheer volume. Street festivals in Little Italy, like ArtWalk and the Sicilian Festival, have been bringing in a lot people. We’ll also be participating in the Taste of Little Italy, where one of our servers who’s a top shucker in the country will be out front shucking oysters and entertaining guests.
SDDN: How many oysters do you go through in a day?
JM: Right now between 15,000 and 17,000 oysters per day. We sell about 600 – 800 during $1 oyster happy hour [Mon through Fri, 3 to 6 p.m.] There were so many people who were just waiting for something like this. I’ll be excited when we get East Coast oysters in the fall — they’re a bit saltier. Most of our oysters right now are from Baja. We carry seven varieties of oysters every day, six for the chef’s choice selection and one especially for oyster happy hour.
SDDN: You’re already a two-star Michelin chef. What’s the next professional goal for you?
JM: I’d like to explore the ownership and entrepreneurial roles more. I’ve been focused on operations, and as I get older it’s harder on my body. Of course I would miss the hands-on stuff because I love what I do. When you open a restaurant together, you create a bond with the staff that you just can’t describe.
—Kai Oliver-Kurtin is a local freelance reporter who also works full-time doing social media marketing for the U.S. Navy. She enjoys covering events, restaurant news, culture and entertainment. Contact her at email@example.com.