The dim sum service at Lure Fishbar — which was discontinued a while ago but has now resumed to weekend brunch — goes back a long way. It had its genesis at Chinatown Brasserie, a restaurant John McDonald opened with Josh Pickard, that opened with lots of fanfare in 2006, located in what is now Lafayette. The architect of the restaurant’s dim sum service was Joe Ng, who went on to found Red Farm with Ed Schoenfeld.
At the outset I wrote, “Chinatown Brasserie is a restaurant for people who are afraid of Chinatown.” But Ng’s dim sum showed promise, including pork shu mai with a bonus shrimp poised on top and a gloriously thin wrapper. Well, Ng went on to refine his dim sum game at Red Farm, and his legacy lives on at Lure Fishbar’s revamped dim sum service, even though Ng is no longer involved.
I went as soon as brunch commenced at noon on a recent Sunday. I’m always surprised by how packed Lure can be, a fully conceived use of what must have been an underutilized subterranean space before it opened in 2004. Today, multiple rooms have a ceiling that feels like the hold of a ship with its arched looming beams and other nautical details, and huge portals that let you observe the shoes and ankles passing by on the sidewalk above.
True to its reputation as a seafood spot, lots of fish preparations are available at Lure’s brunch, though fewer than at its dinner service, including a smoked salmon tower, its signature sushi with toasted rice, a lobster roll, and full plate fish-filet entrees. Other brunch selections are mainly standards: four kinds of eggs Benedict, a burger, Caesar salad, and mushroom omelet. But elbowing its way onto the menu is a dim sum service consisting of four plates, half presented in bamboo steamers. All are worth ordering, though some are better than others, and I present them below in order of preference.
Shrimp spring roll with sweet chile sauce ($12)
When you bite into an egg roll, you often expect lots of sprouts and cabbage — not a bad thing — but the spring roll at Lure is packed with so much shrimp, there seems to be nothing else. In this way the inherent blandness of the spring roll, its delicate fried flavor and supremely thin pastry, are preserved. And the sweet chili sauce is exactly what you want, making it like a crunchy shrimp cocktail.
Lobster dumplings ($16)
These dumplings are in an unusual shape with an indentation on top like an eye socket, usually reserved for crab or pea-shoot dumplings. Here they are filled with fluffy lobster meat, and are quite perfect in every way except where a double thickness of dough is pressed together on top, making it a little denser and chewier than you might like. Admittedly, this is not much of a defect, and this is one of the most enjoyable ways to experience lobster.
Pork and shrimp potstickers ($14)
Many dim sum lovers gravitate toward the fried-on-one-side kind of dumpling because of the extra flavor conferred by the cooking method. Here, the dumplings bulge with their filling and rest in a soy-laced gravy as if they have just finished a long swim in dark waters. The shape is a bit unusual for a potsticker, like a dimetrodon with a frill at the top, and that is all for the good as far as dim sum goes.
Chicken and shrimp shumai ($15)
This was my least favorite dumpling at Lure, though the structure of the dumpling was technically accurate. The filling had been overpureed, resulting in a texture – dare I say it? – a little too cat-foody. At the same time, the wrapper lacked the pleasant gumminess that shumai sometimes benefit from. Not a bad dumpling by any means, but the one you shouldn’t order if you’re only eating three plates.
Taken together, the dim sum service at Lure offers a reverent take on the genre. In fact, I wouldn’t mind seeing a little more experimental stuff going on. Shrimp rice noodles would also be a good addition, but as it is, Lure offers a fine and balanced selection.