Seafood restaurants aren't what they used to be in our city. One of my favorite Grazing meals of all time took me to a joint on the south side of town where, of course, everything was fried and the specialty was catfish and hushpuppies. This was maybe 25 years ago.
During my meal with a friend, a brawl erupted in the kitchen. I'm talking screaming and clattering pots and pans. The combatants burst through the door and the fight continued in the dining room, fists flailing. Sirens screamed. The police arrived. Everyone in the dining room continued to drag their fish through tartar sauce and ketchup as if this were redneck dinner theater.
Lure is light years from that time, but it doesn't lack genuine drama. Bill Peace of Peace Design and the crew at ai3 have turned the ramshackle cottage that used to house Vickery's into a witty, woody, and elegant stage for executive chef David Bradley's cooking.
Chef Bradley has been with Fifth Group for about 12 years, working his way from a server's job at La Tavola to, most recently, chef de cuisine at Ecco. Thus his entire career has been spent in the Fifth Group, which is well-known for its devotion to cultivating talented, knowledgeable employees.
Now, having eaten at Lure with three super-picky, stingy friends last Friday night, let me give you a warning. This isn't cheap. But there's good reason for that. Bradley is sourcing sparkling-fresh fish from sustainable sources. The thoughtless plundering of the world's oceans has made that quality of fish a luxury. Bradley is also using seasonal, local produce.
The weekly changing menu is divided into three sections: "raw, chilled, and really fresh," "for you or for sharing," and "sizeable servings." The first section — oysters, a Mexican-style ceviche "coctel," a smoked seafood platter, etc. — is easy to negotiate in terms of portions. The second is confusing.
Someone at the table asked our terrific server if that section's plates were adequate as individual entrées.
"Some of them are and some of them aren't," he said. "And it depends on how hungry you are."
Of course, that didn't really answer the question, since without seeing a plate beforehand, you can't make a reasoned decision. So, being insatiable, I decided to order the cassolette from section two and the whole, grilled Georgia rainbow trout from section three.
The cassolette would have been quite adequate as an entrée, especially with a cup of soup. It includes white beans, braised squid, Pernod, and tomato, but there's a mysterious component: seafood sausage. I wrote Bradley and he explained that it is entirely made of "scallops, shrimp, and sole flavored with tarragon and chives." I'm not quite sure what to make of it. It definitely had the texture of a moderately dense sausage, but the flavor was confusing, probably because of the pot's many ingredients.
When ordering, I asked the server if the cassolette was topped with breadcrumbs like a traditional cassoulet. He told me it was not and indeed it wasn't. But Bradley told me it was supposed to be, along with some fennel pollen. In any case, the dish is baked and then, before serving, topped with an explosively flavorful salad of shaved fennel and cherry tomatoes. Yes, I'd order it again.
My friends — the people who go to a Korean grill and order chicken-fried rice — played safe with cups of New England-style clam chowder and a Thai-inspired tom yum shrimp bisque with crisp mushrooms and coriander. Order the latter. It has creamy with hot layers of flavor that leave a pleasant, temporary burn in the back of your mouth.
You will likely be told multiple times during your meal that the restaurant is one of only a few in America that is using a (ultra-expensive) Josper oven-grill. Of Spanish origin, the oven is fueled by charcoal and is famous for the way it seals flavors.
There's no question that my whole, grilled trout had amazing flavor — the kind you keep thinking about after an exceptional meal. I'm talking about the meat itself. I had not-so-positive feelings about the muscadine butter that Bradley spoons over the fish after it's grilled. It was unbearably sweet to my palate. Happily, it was easy to avoid by not eating the skin.
Other fish on the table — swordfish and black bass — earned only praise. I particularly liked the braised bass, cooked with sweet and hot peppers, yellow wax beans, and a saffron-coconut broth. The grilled swordfish, cut into large cubes, was served with a caponata and a salsa cruda with anchovies and tomatoes.
Dessert? A pair of sourdough funnel cakes with figs and cream for me. Sorry, but the figs were way overcooked. Two others at the table devoured a hot fudge sundae with a brownie.
Lure has been open a month and I enjoyed it, despite the glitches here and there. My friends complained that the portions weren't big enough — but they never are. Go, order a bowl of punch and indulge yourself in the quite adequate portions.