Launching softly on Wednesday is the 12-story, 317-room Pendry San Diego, the first of a new brand from luxury operator Montage Hotels & Resorts that is positioned to offer an impressive six food and drink venues under one roof in the heart of the Gaslamp. Three, including its restaurant centerpiece Lionfish Modern Coastal Cuisine, will be run by Clique Hospitality, one of Las Vegas’ premier dining and nightlife groups.
Vintage lighting fixtures cast a warm glow on the 5th Avenue restaurant, where an outdoor patio leads into a bar and lounge area and a more formal dining room that fronts a glassed-in kitchen captained by executive chef Jose “JoJo” Ruiz. There’s also a second floor mezzanine, which will be used for private dining and extra seating. Last year, Ruiz made the switch to join the Pendry project from CH Projects, where he was Ironside Fish & Oyster’s longtime chef de cuisine. The San Diego native, who was an Eater Young Guns semifinalist in 2015, isn’t new to the Gaslamp; he cooked at The Oceanaire Seafood Room and was Brian Malarkey’s chef de cuisine when he launched the Searsucker flagship.
Suffice it to say that Ruiz has a way with seafood. His seasonally-changing menu is built on shareable “upscale casual” plates that include tajin-seared albacore with finger lime, daikon, crispy onions and ponzu and hiramasa crudo with black garlic, Valencia orange, harissa and watercress. A former sushi chef himself, Ruiz brought in a dedicated sushi team to oversee a section of the menu that features traditional nigiri as well as nigiri flights that play with garnishes and flavors and specialty rolls that include the Surf & Turf combo of seared Wagyu beef and Maine lobster. But the fresh catch is balanced evenly with meat-centric dishes, ranging from Hudson Valley duck breast served with foie butter, seaweed potato gnocchi, citrus-duck jus and orange mustard greens to a 16-ounce prime New York strip steak with bordelaise sauce, sunchokes Lyonnaise, and miso-sunchoke puree.
In addition to bringing a fresh dose of chef-driven dining to downtown, Lionfish is aiming to have a buzzing bar scene, with a well-stocked wine and beer list and refined spirit-forward cocktails that include the Rice-Paper-Scissors made with Hendrick’s Gin, Junmai Ginjo Saké Pimm’s Mix, yuzu citrus, Dry Cucumber Soda and Ichimi Togarashi syrup and Chai Me A River, a mix of chai tea-infused Casamigos Reposado Tequila, Ancho Reyes Chili Ancho Chili Liqueur, Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, tamarind gomme and Angostura Bitters.
Besides the dinner-only Lionfish, Clique Hospitality’s other holdings at the Pendry will include a below-ground boutique nightlife venue dubbed Oxford Social Club that will operate Thursday through Saturday plus one Monday per month and The Pool House, a rooftop lounge offering drinks and light bites that will be open to the public starting in March.
Written for Eater San Diego by Candice Woo