Trekkie-nerd alert: My immediate thought walking into Chinatown’s Lure Izakaya was that I had stepped into Quark’s Bar on the reassembled Deep Space Nine set—that is, if Quark had enlisted his brother Rom to erect a DJ booth in the middle of the room to play atmospheric techno while Leeta tended bar in costumes corresponding to theme nights—“Geisha Sundays,” “Green Hornet Wednesdays.”
Yes, on the surface Lure is a decidedly ’90s-America take on—duhnt-duh-duh-dah—the Future! But those pulsating pink and blue orbs suspended from the ceiling beat to the rhythm of a Japanese heart, even with a Frenchman and a Chinese-American in the kitchen. Eric Aubriot (a onetime hot shot who has recently earned a reputation as a fixer, popping into restaurants such as Custom House Tavern and Il Fiasco to do some clean-up) and Kee Chan (owner of the now-defunct Mulan) claim on Lure’s website that they “want to do simple food” (Chan) but that “simple food has to be perfect” (Aubriot). Sounds good. The problem is that while the simplest of the snacky Japanese small plates at Lure nail it, someone in the kitchen insists on tucking fusion elements into the menu here and there—an apparent attempt to connect with the whacked-out surroundings.
Thus, a general rule emerged after two meals: Avoid anything listed as having more than two components. This leaves diners open to any of the excellently grilled seafood, all given only a lemon wedge for companionship: salted and air-dried whole fish like horse mackerel, snapper and sardines; fresh squid grilled whole and carved into a stack of tender rings and a pile of lightly charred tentacles; a fist-size hunk of mackerel poached in burdock root, chilled and served in a thin glaze of that broth. It’s all delicious in its simplicity and quality.
Other proteins do just as well when they’re relying on themselves and little else. Razor-thin rounds of raw beef are of top quality, intensified by a good squirt of spicy mayo and a restrained drizzle of truffle oil. Hunks of chicken thigh broken down by a sake marinade are lightly battered and fried for an ideal drinking food that needs nothing more than a squeeze of lime and a cold glass of sake. But complicate matters and you wind up with rice paper bursting at the seams from raw tuna, shrimp, slivered beets and herbs, all of it inexplicably crowned with a hunk of cold bone marrow and a shower of underripe tomatoes. Those same tomatoes show up in a disastrous bowl of sandy clams sitting on fettucine strands with a sort of pork-belly sauce that tastes like old bacon grease. Noodles go gloopy yet again when soba is first boiled, then combined with a vaguely Asian pan sauce to be stir-fried into what seems like a leftover-redux. Mostly, when the chefs stick to the idea of an izakaya, essentially a bar that serves food drunk people crave, they do a bang-up job. But when they serve the kind of food drunk people cook, they leave behind carnage as messy as the kitchen disaster the morning after.
By Heather Shouse
|Venue name:||Lure Izakaya Pub (CLOSED)||Contact:|
2017 S Wells St
|Cross street:||in Chinatown Square|
|Opening hours:||Brunch (Sat, Sun), dinner|
|Transport:||El stop: Red to Cermak/Chinatown. Bus: 18, 21, 62.|
|Price:||Average small plate: $7|
|Do you own this business?|