Note: Click here for a review of the burger at Lure Fishbar.
It’s easy to get the idea that all SoHo restaurants are cynical ploys to separate gullible diners from their hard-won cash. That was Frank Bruni’s take when he first visited Lure Fishbar in September 2004, not long after it opened. He awarded one star in a lukewarm January 2005 review, setting a new indoor record for most nautical puns per column inch. But in New York, Hal Rubenstein was “Hooked, and the Post’s Steve Cuozzo wrote, “This is serious seafood.”
The restaurant was nearly shipwrecked in January 2006, when a fire engulfed the Prada store that occupies the same building. Most of the expensive teak wood was saved, but it still took four months for the interior to be restored. Version 2.0 features a new sushi bar and a remodeled lounge area.
Lure Fishbar’s owners, John McDonald and Josh Pickard, also own Lever House in midtown, which I visited last year. (I wasn’t wowed.) The two restaurants share a similar design idea, but the nautical theme that Lever House only hints at has reached full bloom here, in a subterranean dining room fully transformed into a luxury cruise ship. All of this might seem like a gimmick, but it turns out the food is terrific.
Reservations at Lure Fishbar seem to be readily available any night of the week on OpenTable, so I hadn’t expected it to be quite so crowded. I arrived at about 6:45 p.m. to find a buzzing bar scene. Neither a seat nor any of the bartenders’ attention were to be had. I did finally manage to order a cocktail, but it was so unpleasant (the service, not the drink) that I would not order another. The host had no intention of seating me in the dining room before my friend arrived, so I was left with nothing to do but pace the room. Fortunately, the service got much better after my friend arrived, and we were seated.
As you might guess, the hard wood surfaces reflect sound, and on a Friday night there’s plenty of it. This is not the place for a heart-to-heart chat, and I found myself cupping my ear to hear my friend speak. But for food this good, I’m willing to put up with the inconvenience.
We started with the Bloody Mary Royale ($14) to drink. A standard large Bloody Mary is garnished with a piece of shrimp and a stick of olives. It comes with a shot glass on the side, with more Bloody Mary and an oyster shooter. This must be one of the cleverest drinks in town, and a bargain too, considering that some restaurants have already surpassed the $15 barrier for conventional mixed drinks. (Lure’s other house cocktails are $11.)
The menu is a bit overwhelming, with an extensive raw bar, sushi and sashimi, traditional appetizers, entrees, and side dishes. It is hard to know how much to order. My friend Kelly knew she wanted oysters, scallops, and the salmon tartare; she left the rest up to me. We gave our server a large order, and left the sequencing up to the kitchen.
First to come out was a plate of four raw scallops ($3.50 ea.), the yellowtail jalapeno roll ($16), and the lobster tempura roll ($16). All were fresh and beautifully presented, with the jalapeno roll our favorite.
The chef must be proud of the Salmon Tartare ($16), since it is shown prominently on the restaurant website. That pride is justified, as this is one of the best raw fish dishes I’ve had. The only flaw is that the three small pieces of melba toast were insufficient, so we just dug in with our forks: we weren’t going to let any of this go to waste.
Three shellfish platters are offered, with the medium platter ($49) being an ample portion for two. There is not much preparation involved here. It comes down to the freshness of the ingredients, and in that respect we could find no fault.
For a restaurant this busy, service was remarkably good. The timing of the courses was just right. Used plates and silverware were promptly cleared and replaced. We were given extra plates for the detritus of our shellfish, which were taken away when full. At the end of our meal, we received warm towels to wash our hands. These are small points, but often overlooked.
I was also impressed with the warm, bread rolls and the soft butter that came with them.
Lure Fishbar is clearly the product of a modern era in which restaurants feel they need eye-popping décor to get noticed. But despite the bar scene and the SoHo crowds, the fresh seafood here is worth the voyage.
Lure Fishbar (142 Mercer Street at Prince Street, SoHo)