Sailing on Dry Land: Lure Fishbar Docks in Soho

For their latest venture, John McDonald and Josh Pickard, partners in midtown’s Lever House, have transformed the space under the Prada store that used to be Canteen into a glamorous 1940′s-style yacht. The subterranean dining room has a vaulted ceiling with skylights, shiny teak paneling, chrome grip bars (useful after one too many Huckleberry Finns, the house gin cocktail) and portholes for windows. The polished wood tables are set with circular white vinyl banquettes and nautical blue chairs made of a material treated with Teflon. If you look up, you can see people’s legs walking on the street above, so it feels as though you’re really below deck, moored in a harbor. If you’re near the back of the room, put your hands on the table and you’ll feel a subtle vibration, like a ship’s motor. Too bad it’s just the subway.

The restaurant is quiet during the day, but during dinner you may wonder in what hellish port this yacht has docked. The noise hits you like a tidal wave at the entrance, bouncing back from the caulked wood floor, which is like a boat deck. There was a 20-minute wait for our table, during which conversation was out of the question, so I had time to look at the photographs in the bar. The glamour of yesterday always seems infinitely more attractive than the glamour of today, which is why those black-and-white pictures of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, Brigitte Bardot and even George Hamilton lolling about on yachts remain so alluring. At last, we were led to a table in the back near the sushi bar. From this vantage point, I looked around the room at the clientele: an eclectic group, from bikers covered in tattoos to young Japanese women clutching Louis Vuitton alligator handbags (the real thing, not knockoffs from the Soho sidewalk upstairs)-and, of course, the requisite Wall Street executives in pinstripe suits.

Chef Josh Capon’s menu is divided into several categories: raw-fish bar, shellfish bar (a plateau de fruits de mer costs $62), a section called “skewers” (one of which is hamachi with foie gras and grilled pineapple; I passed) and a “fish board.” For those carnivores that like to eat herbivores, there is also steak, chicken, or surf and turf. Small plates are all the rage now in New York, and I like the idea; you can taste more things. But watch out: They all add up, especially at Lure Fishbar, where those tiny crudo plates are so delicious that you’ll find yourself ordering more, at $12 to $14 apiece. Even the sashimi platter ($32), which I ordered for lunch one day, left me feeling hungry, and I ended up devouring a second round of the excellent, squishy Parker House rolls that are brought to the table when you sit down.

From the raw-fish bar, six cubes of yellowtail tuna arrive topped with something that looks like a piece of marzipan. It’s “olive oil brûlée,” salty and unctuous, with pickled chilies underneath delivering a touch of heat. Thin, glistening slices of sea bass are sprinkled with plum vinegar gelée and grated lemon, a julienne of jicama adding a crunch. Cubes of Arctic char get a splash of creamy horseradish, a dusting of orange trout roe and dill; slices of red snapper come with cerignola olives, red pepper flakes and lime. How many of these would you have to eat to feel full? Waiter! Bring on another round.

Under the category “fried,” the calamari-glazed with smoked chilies and sprinkled with pea shoots-are nicely seasoned but give your jaws a workout. Tempura shrimp are juicy and tender, perked up with a preserved-black-bean mayonnaise. Moving on, the “fish board” consists of minimalist plates and minimalist portions served as main courses. Side orders are encouraged, steakhouse style. A wedge of snowy black cod is topped with mushrooms and placed in the center of a square white plate. Nicely salted Japanese red snapper with a crispy skin is sprinkled with a yuzu olive oil foam. Halibut is mushy, served with an interesting pink peppercorn vinaigrette and crispy potatoes. If you must have steak, it’s a 14-ounce aged sirloin; it’s very good, and comes with thick French fries and tomato salad.

Our yacht-inspired eatery also docks in New England for some typical lobster-shack dishes. A Portuguese-inspired soup made with mussels and chorizo sausage in a light tomato laced with garlic has a pleasant spicy kickback, but the white clam chowder, made with whole littlenecks, is bland. The crab cakes are bland, too. The fish and chips are a better choice, with crisp fries and a batter perked up with a dash of vinegar. I also recommend the lobster roll, served with chunks of fresh, briny lobster tossed in mayonnaise on half a long bun, with French fries (and it’s only $22).

Desserts are simple and straightforward. They include a rich devil’s-food cake slathered with chocolate ganache and served with caramel ice cream; an apple strudel loaded with raisins and nuts; and a pear-cranberry crisp. My favorite is the Key lime tart with a creamy mango sorbet. Avoid the gummy chocolate pudding, though the cookies-laced with melting chocolate chips-were a treat. The cappuccino is on the watery side. The wide-ranging wine list offers around a dozen half bottles and wines by the glass, but there are few choices under $40. The Arneis Giacosa from Piedmont is a good crisp white wine, although no steal at $44. It goes nicely with oysters.

When I was just 18, I went out to dinner with a young man who had lived in Paris and boasted that he had learned how to identify the difference between oysters blindfolded. “I can tell an Ostend from a Marenne vert, a Belon from a Portugaise …. ” he said. I didn’t tell him I had been under the impression that oysters were just oysters. I wonder how he’d do at Lure Fishbar, where the oysters’ names-beau soleil, raspberry point, totten inlet, Pacific orchard-sound like the shipping forecast? If I knew where my friend was now, I’d invite him to Lure Fishbar with his blindfold.

LURE FISHBAR

**

142 MERCER STREET (CORNER OF PRINCE) 212-431-7676

dress: Casual, chic, business, whatever

noise level: High but not unbearable

wine list: International list, 250 bottles with 20 half bottles, expensive

credit cards: All major

price range: Brunch, $9 to $12; lunch, small plates, $12 to $24, main courses, $14 to $34; dinner, small plates, $12 to $16, main courses, $23 to $34

lunch: Seven days, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.; late lunch, 3 to 5:30 p.m.

dinner: Sunday through Thursday, 5:30 to 11 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, to midnight.

* good

** very good

*** excellent

**** outstanding

no star poor