On a Monday night in March, JRDN at the Tower23 Hotel in Pacific Beach was humming. Diners on the patio drank chili mango margaritas and dined on maki filled with spicy scallop and topped with wagyu beef carpaccio as the sky behind Crystal Pier turned violet. Indoor tables started to fill with a diverse clientele that included families, couples and girlfriends catching up over cocktails. It was a scene that has played out countless times since JRDN opened in 2005. I’ve been visiting since then, and it’s still one of the only places in San Diego where you can enjoy a freshly muddled mint mojito and raw oysters while also feeling the ocean breeze. But a dozen years in, it was ready for a refresh.
This winter, the restaurant closed for two months for an overhaul that has infused it with new energy. Gone are the white tablecloths in the section that used to be reserved for fine dining. A sunset-friendly glass wall that opens to bring the outside in has been added to the main dining room and an aqua-colored art installation on one wall features a geometric print and Pacific beach imagery. One of the major improvements greets diners as they enter the door: A pristine sushi kitchen enclosed in rose-colored glass has doubled the size of the raw bar and made it possible to serve sushi to the entire restaurant. Longtime patrons may remember that when JRDN opened, it had a small sushi kitchen, but it serviced only part of the dining room, often resulting in confusion and disappointment for guests. For this reason, it eventually morphed into a raw bar. Now, guests can order creative sushi rolls and sashimi to their heart’s content.
Chef David Warner, a graduate of The Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale’s School of Culinary Arts, worked for JRDN for eight years before leaving to start his own venture. He was hired back by Tower23’s parent company, Eat.Drink.Sleep, a year and a half ago as their corporate executive chef, and after revamping the group’s floundering Decoy Dockside restaurant, he returned to the helm of the restaurant at Tower23 just as the improvements were taking place.
“It’s like someone painted your house for you while you were gone,” he says with a laugh. Deeply involved in the ambitious new menu, Warner drew inspiration from California and Japan. While no item is traditionally Japanese, guests will find that some Asian ingredients featured in the sushi menu have found their way onto the regular menu in unexpected ways—for example, pretzel bites with sea salt and nori mustard, and a pickled and roasted beet salad with candied ginger and yuzu-miso vinaigrette.
“I’ve grown up a little bit,” says Warner. “My palate has evolved and it’s great to play with new flavor profiles.” The Roulette Roll, named for the sometimes spicy shishito peppers tucked inside, includes crab, avocado, torched salmon, spicy aioli and eel sauce. Warner’s playful take on bacon-wrapped scallops is an unwrapped version featuring bite-size bay scallops and a piece of braised slab bacon on a bed of cauliflower puree, its decadence cut by a tangy golden raisin and tomatillo pico de gallo.
“If you want to chill with your friends and have ahi nachos, you can, and if you want to have a fine dining experience with duck confit and a nice bottle of wine, you can do that too,” Warner says.
As I sat near the window sipping a decidedly Asian take on a mojito called the Far East with Hendricks gin, Chartreuse, cucumber, lime and Japanese mint, I watched as people ran and walked their dogs along the boardwalk with the ocean as a backdrop. The cocktail list, menu and newly fab interior may have changed, but there’s no improving on that view.
JRDN AT TOWER23
723 Felspar St., Pacific Beach, San Diego, 858.270.2323
Sun.-Thu., 9AM-9:30PM; Sat. and Sun., 9AM-10PM
Appetizers, $9-$19; entrees, $26-$63; raw bar platters, $19-$125; desserts, $9