As one might conclude from following the career path of Scott (Joanie Loves Chachi) Baio, cute rarely ages well. It seems like only yesterday that restaurants were staking their popularity on menus packed with such adorable dishes as macaroni and cheese and s’mores, served in Brobdingnagian renderings of Richie Cunningham’s rec room. Can it be that it was all so simple then?
But as we’ve seen, even Cher can’t turn back time forever. And so John McDonald, the owner of downtown’s once-cutest retro clubhouse, Canteen, decided it might be fun to play with the grown-ups. Along with partners Josh Pickard and Robert Nagle, he opened Lever House in midtown, and happily discovered that when it comes to success, there’s nothing like living in the present. Next? How they gonna tweak it down in Soho, after they’d been uptown?
Answer: By replacing Canteen’s basement playpen with Lure Fishbar’s yacht-docked-in-Saint-Tropez interior. So spacious and kitsch-free is Serge Becker’s glamorous high-gloss wood and white-leather fantasy, it quells any lingering queasiness one may have about its sub-sidewalk location.
What’s more likely to shake your equilibrium is that the room is covered in hard, reflective surfaces that ricochet sound. To their credit, McDonald and crew have attracted a lusty clientele—the kind who tie a Windsor knot every morning, but come nightfall release the Viking soul they believe is locked inside, and they hold their liquor like midshipmen on weekend pass. (Management is already figuring out ways to temper the shivering timbers.)
Lure’s most grown-up maneuver, though, is its least obvious: keeping Canteen’s former chef, Josh Capon, at the helm. Not only does his food betray no trace of his earlier commission, it reveals a much more adventurous spirit than one would have imagined hiding behind all that melted Cheddar. In deconstructed menus such as Lure’s, where shared plates and small tastings are favored over the usual three-course meal and “I’ll have … ” ownership, one doesn’t expect to find important flavors and signature dishes under the usually generic heading of “raw bar.”
But Capon’s list is full of sparks. The flavor bursts waiting in a flash-poached lobster showered in burnished garlic and a smack of chili, or in scallops under thin layers of radish and scallion splashed by ginger marinade, go beyond mere freshness and brine of the sea. In fact, of the ten items atop Lure’s menu—including sleek pecks of char brandishing velvety strokes of horseradish, Coho salmon perked by pickled cucumbers, and glistening shards of black sea bass dressed with a lovely plum-wine-vinegar gelée—only yellowfin tuna under a curious, flat olive-oil brûlée disappoints.
All the soups, unfortunately, suffer from inconsistency: Clam chowder, dense and rich with sweet nuggets one night, is watery and filled with tough morsels the next. Mussels, seductively seasoned with saffron at first tasting, get trounced by cubes of chorizo the second time out, and the shrimp in a garden-sweet roasted-tomato broth taste as if they were added by the expediter.
But fried calamari rises above its ubiquity with a super sweet-’n’-sour chili glaze. Tempura shrimp are enhanced by black-bean mayonnaise, and as for skewered items—one expects sirloin and cilantro to make a happy couple, but hamachi and foie gras? Nice.
By the time you get to entrées, you may be too full, too drunk (it’s easier to speak above the din after downing a few of your own), or too broke to care (picking and choosing from a deconstructed menu adds up), but that would be a shame, because there should be a terrific whole dorado grilled in herbs, lime, and chili with your name on it. Silky sautéed halibut picks up zing from its pink-peppercorn vinaigrette, roasted red snapper’s appeal is brought out by a simple treatment with smoked sea salt and lemon olive oil, and if the roasted chicken doesn’t make you long for Sunday evenings in Mom’s kitchen, remember: We’re past that now.
Well, except for dessert. Be mature if you like and have the fine pear-cranberry crisp. But admit it. You really want the chocolate pudding or the ice-cream sandwiches, as you should. Sophisticated as we all want to be, Lure senses that maybe a little Chachi remains in all of us.
Ideal Meal: Lobster and fluke crudo, fried calamari, whole grilled dorado, pear-cranberry crisp.
Note: The quietest tables are right opposite the bar.
142 Mercer St., near Prince St.; 212-431-7676
Hours: Sunday to Tuesday 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., Wednesday to Saturday till midnight.
Prices: Appetizers, $8 to $18; Entrées, $22 to $34.