1654 India Street, Little Italy
If you’re looking for somewhere to see and be seen these days, Ironside Fish and Oyster Bar is a sure bet. On my most recent visit, among the endless faces in the bustle I recognized two graphic designers, three artists, and one architect. Surely all were brought together by the buzz of the newest Consortium Holdings project, the guys who brought us Craft & Commerce, UnderBelly, and Polite Provisions, to name a few.
As with any packed new hotspot, even with a reservation you’re bound to wait a bit. Because it's both so popular and so new, the service has yet to find their groove handling the onslaught. Don’t get me wrong, they’re all pleasant and helpful, but if you're on a tight schedule I recommend that you dine elsewhere — on my first visit, some of our items took over 30 minutes to arrive.
We were told the Ironside bread is amazing, but so far I’ve had to take their word for it — each time I've been (once as early as 6:30 p.m.), I was told they had just run out of the bread a moment before. However, David and I did get to see cooks prepping the next day’s (short) batch via one of the open kitchen areas, so I am inclined to believe them when they claim that they do, in fact, serve bread.
Once David and I were finally seated, and once we received our first sips and nibbles (of what was still available — the kitchen had run out of three separate dishes we tried to order) we forgot about the wait and relished the flavors. The tomato salad may appear simple, but the quality of the ingredients make it extraordinary — the tomatoes ripe, sweet and succulent; Humboldt Fog goat cheese; farm-fresh greens and a gentle touch of dressing.
The cocktail menu is as detailed and extensive as one would expect from this team, which is known for its mixologists. My favorite so far is the Ghostwriter, containing bourbon, Amaro Meletti, and black walnut bitters. All the drinks are fairly small in terms of ounces and don’t pack much of a punch (at least not for this expert drinker), but they’re tasty and well balanced, using the highest-quality ingredients.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — it’s ridiculous that all of these guys’ restaurants have several kinds of mayonnaise (i.e., aioli) and mustards, but refuse to provide any kind of ketchup substitute. This annoys me to no end. I can understand not having vodka, it’s a mostly tasteless liquor and therefore doesn’t deserve to shine as the center of a drink. But with the condiments, it seems really hypocritical and arbitrary to say mayonnaise, aioli, and mustard are cool, but ketchup would degrade your superior experience. Just create a farm-to-table version of something sweet and vinegary for us mayonaisse haters. Please. Because I’d much rather have whatever your version of ketchup would be than the small jar of Heinz I inevitably carry with me into your establishments because I (along with many others) happen to like the special and classic complement of sweet/vinegar combos with fried foods as wonderful and delicious as your french fries. If you really believe in the chef's whim, and that food should not require any kind of dipping sauce—that it is meant to be enjoyed as it is served—then why do so many of your plates come with little cups of mayo-based dipping sauces?
Okay, rant over. Ironside actually comes the closest to satisfying my sweet/vinegar need with their stellar version of "comeback sauce" (which of course is mayonnaise-based, but at least this one provides the sweet/vinegar tang that goes so well with fried food). I enjoyed the comeback sauce with fish and chips, which is a dish I highly recommend. Crispy fried batter and delicate, tender white fish, and those fries are really phenomenal.
Another must-order is the scallop ceviche. This was one of those items that was already gone on my first visit, but I was quick to order it my second time around, and I’m so happy I did. Chunks of avocado provide a creamy balance to the chewable scallops, and each fresh flavor in the bowl melded in harmony but was equally and enjoyably detectable.
David absolutely loved the lobster roll. He’s a bit of a New England lobster roll snob, so though he said it’s not a "traditional lobster roll," which would have more mayo and some celery (he really missed the celery) it's still his favorite lobster roll in town. Essentially, this is a lobster with a side of buttered and toasted bread, and contains giant chunks of well-prepared (i.e. tender) lobster topped with wispy, crispy fried onions. The meat, nearly sauce-free, shines on its own, and is served in the same kind of bread we missed ordering. After taking a bite I could see why it keeps selling out. If you love lobster, you'll love this roll.
Of course, I’ll be back again and again, because this venue succeeds in its owners’ mission to create “public gathering spaces that help cultivate our neighborhoods through the fostering of creativity,” which for me has meant brainstorming and collaborating with David and other fellow creatives while sharing fine local drinks and food in a super fun and lively atmosphere. And one of these days, I may even get there early enough to order the bread.