Lionfish Opens With A Roar
Posted on April 28, 2017
The immaculate Pendry Hotel has risen like a contemporary boutique phoenix from a once underutilized Gaslamp district parking lot. It has attained instant “It-spot” status that bleeds over to its bars and the modern coastal eatery, Lionfish. The brilliant, eye-catching interior design and pulsing, club-ready audio feels more downtown Manhattan than downtown San Diego. The metropolitan mojo continues from the ultra-mod menu that takes inspiration from hip dining trends, and also features local ingredients and tastes.
An example is the Lionfish caviar service. At the restaurant’s opening, chef Jose “JoJo” Ruiz offered a dollop of American paddlefish, Siberian sturgeon, or Israeli golden osetra on traditional blinis. But after his annual pilgrimage to New York City, where he saw tater-tots and fried spuds galore, he swapped petite pancakes for wholesome croquettes infused with a confit of garlic. Anointed with a healthy spoonful of salty, minerally roe and topped with Meyer lemon crème fraîche, those crispy coated yet soft-in-the-middle conveyances make for a luxurious but down-to-earth revelation.
Caviar service is designed like much of the menu, to be split during an evening of experiential dining with friends. Dishes that are also primed for sharing include thinly sliced raw lobster medallions topped with fried shallots, brown-butter aioli and sherry ponzu; hiramasa crudo with a heavy dose of citrus care from Valencia oranges and an uplifting harissa condiment; and tostadas topped with duck confit and foie gras crema. It’s not all about the shared plate. Butter-poached king crab legs topped with caviar is something so decadent you might opt to keep it all to yourself.
Pristine seafood is a focus at Lionfish. The raw bar offers three varieties of oyster and chilled shrimp. There is also sushi in sashimi and nigiri form. The most interesting of the nigiri combines big eye tuna, foie gras, ponzu, and bone-marrow butter. It figures locals and tourists alike will invoke their inner Ron Burgundy and go for the “Keep It Classy” roll: tempura shrimp, tuna, and avocado with zesty togarashi and a slightly sweet and spicy gochujang cream. It’s a unique and tasty selection that doesn’t disappoint.
An octet of plated mains is available. Half revolve around freshly caught seafood like ginger soy-glazed sea bass with trumpet mushrooms and an olive oil hollandaise, and seared scallops with green garlic and ajo blanco (a Caribbean almond-based soup). Landlubber proteins make up the remainder, with a 20-ounce New York strip serving as the headliner, and Hudson Valley duck breast punched up with foie butter and citrus-duck jus serving as a rich, succulent, under-the-radar star.
Being shiny and new, Lionfish’s magnetism is enough to pack folks in, but cookery both sound and inspired provides a reason to return for those who are more about what’s on the plate. 619.738.7200, lionfishsd.com Brandon Hernández
Photography by Vincent Knakal