When I visit a restaurant with a creative approach to seafood, I often put it to the mental sauce test. Would the intriguing fillet of spice-crusted fish bathed in a colorful sauce that I ordered actually taste better with just a little lemon and butter?
That’s the thing about seafood. If it’s fresh, well-sourced and prepared with skill, it doesn’t need much.
And that’s the thing about seafood restaurants. They too often can’t help but distinguish themselves with, well, much.
Lure, which opened in the former Vickery’s space in July, has no shortage of intriguing ideas, especially on its drinks list. The inside bristles with urban energy, while the best new patio in Midtown meanders about, offering many quiet corners. Then there’s the menu — a showcase of innovative modern cooking, international flavors and sustainable seafood awareness. It all combines for an alluringly shiny bauble that most definitely attracts my attention but hasn’t quite yet reeled me in.
If this makes me sound like a lush, forgive me. But what I most want to do at Lure is drink. The bar is a lively slice of adrenalized space, with a great lineup of bartenders eager to pull a pint of Allagash white ($6) or, better yet, introduce you to the shochu, which is low enough in alcohol to work as a terrific aperitif. We love the smoky Kannoko ($9), and we love its garnish: The bartender dipped an orange segment in sugar and torched it until it caramelized.
If the wine list doesn’t beckon, you might want to try one of the punch bowls or a hand-bottled cocktail that you open yourself at the table with a church key. The Micha Caliente ($9) combines lemon-lime soda with jalapeno vodka, orange liqueur, white wine and fruit juice. The presentation isn’t just clever, it reinforces the thirst-quenching nature of this drink.
You want great bites to go with this great bar program, and the menu tries every which way but sideways to hit the snackum button. My favorite so far has been the fried oyster slider ($4.50), which gushes with saline juices and remoulade sauce inside its soft bun. A close second: the fried Ipswich clam bellies ($15), crisp and chewy in just the right way, which will have you licking your fingers.
But before you start thinking this is some kind of fancy clam shack, the kitchen shifts tone. Sauteed scamp grouper ($15) with curried corn, yogurt and spicy lime pickle knows exactly what to do with Indian seasoning to bring out the sweetness of the fish.
Seared scallop crudo with sugar snap peas, a pea puree and horseradish ($12) comes out a bit too warm and soupy, and the sear on the scallop makes it all seem weirdly uncooked rather than gloriously raw. A trio of house-smoked seafood choices ($15) — salmon, bluefish and trout pate — is dry here, salty there and lacking that collusion of smoke and fish oils that distinguishes great smoked fish.
Better is the grilled baby octopus with tiles of pork belly ($17), which come with lettuce and herbs for wrapping and dipping, Vietnamese-style, into nuoc cham sauce. It’s fun if not quite convincing as a great Asian food-wrapping experience.
I applaud chef David Bradley for his many creative vegetarian plates, large and small. I enjoy the luscious, chewy french horn mushrooms ($12) served with baba ghanouj and chickpeas, even if an overdose of cinnamon in the sauce nearly derails the flavors. And I was smitten the first time I ordered roasted small eggplants ($7) with dill, pickled banana peppers, mild sheep’s milk feta and watercress. It was prepared with such a keen eye to cut and proportion that it sold the unusual flavors. The second time it was a big heap with too much creamy dressing and seemed an odd mishmash without a sense of place or season.
This kitchen does sometimes lose its technique as it piles up ingredients. I hate to rag on the cassoulette ($15) — a clever and evidently time-consuming play on cassoulet, the Toulouse specialty of cured meats and white beans. Here we have a bready seafood sausage atop mushy beans holding sproingy ringlets of squid in a saffron-heavy tomato sauce. I also must say that cassoulette, rather than a diminutive of cassoulet in French, is actually, um, well, a slang term that doesn’t belong in a seafood restaurant.
I haven’t had much luck so far with the main courses. Fish and chips ($16) prepared with redfish again shows that this kitchen knows its way around a fryer. But braised snapper ($28) with beans and peppers in a saffron-coconut broth has slimy skin and flavors that never cohere. Grilled Georgia rainbow trout ($24) with sweet, sweet muscadine butter illustrates the lemon-butter rule. It’s a big plate of “why.”
The kitchen should leave the sweets to the pastry chef, who’s got a rice pudding sundae ($7) with rum-raisin caramel and vanilla soft serve to send you off on a high note.
Truthfully, I suspect you’ll walk away from Lure thinking well of the service, the design and the great attention to detail. You might even put it on the short list of Midtown restaurants that bear further exploration. If it doesn’t quite touch that seafood-loving part of your soul yet, give it time. It has plenty of other things going for it.LURE 1106 Crescent Ave., Atlanta, 404-881-1106
Food: A fun, varied selection of seafoodService: Personable and welcoming Best dishes: Scamp grouper, french horn mushrooms, fried oyster slider Vegetarian selections: Several appealing and unusual ones Credit cards: All major Hours: Lunch: 11 a.m.-3 p.m, daily; Dinner: 5-10 p.m., Sundays-Thursdays, 5-11 p.m., Fridays-Saturdays. Children: This would not be my first choice for younger kids, but the patio would be workable early in the evening. Parking: Valet Reservations: Yes Wheelchair access: Full Smoking: No Noise level: Very high inside Patio: One of the nicest new patios in Midtown Takeout: Yes