Lure Fish House and Oyster Bar
60 California St.

One aspect of food reviews for this publication is our editor’s desire for coverage of independent, non-chain restaurants. Nearly three years ago a terrific seafood restaurant opened in Camarillo, and in November the owners opened another restaurant (same name, same menu) in downtown Ventura. In about three weeks they will do the same in Westlake Village. Before they can be considered a “chain,” I wanted to make sure to share thoughts and observations about this welcome addition to Ventura County’s gastronomic culture. The restaurant: Lure, Fish House and Oyster Bar. The verdict: I continue going back again and again, and have never been disappointed in anything.

This review is specifically tailored to the Ventura restaurant on California Street. One’s first impression is of a large edifice with clean crisp lines, white walls with ocean-blue signage, and impressive shiny wooden entrance doors. Once inside, the impression is further enhanced by, again, mindful design and well-trained welcoming staff. The popularity of this restaurant is already sometimes creating longish waits to be seated, but the oyster bar and the actual bar area seem to help diners whet their appetites or decide to eschew a proper table for less structured seating.

In fact, a restaurateur friend of mine frequently pops in to the oyster bar for the terrific selection (which varies daily and seasonally) of East Coast Blue Point, Canadian Fanny Bay or Washington State’s Crystal Point and Hama Hama oysters. Served either on the half shell or char broiled, I defy any oyster aficionado to ever find fault with any part of the service, presentation or most importantly, taste. Whoever Lure uses as its shellfish buyer/broker has found top-of-the-line sources. My own favorites are the Fanny Bay, which are tray-cultured in Baynes Sound near Vancouver and have a clean, full oyster flavor and beautiful scalloped shells.

The soup choices are either a traditional (and very creamy) New England clam chowder or a moderately spicy Veracruz red, which is cioppino-like with a hint of chili. Both are worthy, but for my palate I prefer to start with the smoked albacore crostini, which is smoked tuna, garlic-roasted cherry tomatoes, garlic aioli and chives. Not only does it present well, but it literally melts in your mouth with each bite. I also enjoy the crab cakes, which are very lightly panko breaded and served with a dollop of cilantro corn salad.

The other evening I had a hankering for the lobster ravioli, and opted for one of the small bar-area half-booths. As one is very close to one’s fellow diners in that area, I couldn’t help but overhear accolades about that evening’s special: mesquite-charbroiled Norwegian cod, simply served with lemon and butter, and the lightness yet firmness of this fish was most appreciated by the diners. I could also see them vicariously savoring my ravioli when it arrived at my table. Of all the Lure dishes I’ve sampled this is not their most impressive in presentation, but the fresh-tasting pasta stuffed with rich and flavorful lobster purée, and swimming in a white, creamy sauce that reminds me of a lemony, buttery Hollandaise, is deliciously satisfying, and a high-end comfort-food sort of meal. Priced at $19.95, this is near the top end of the menu’s price range, but is well worth every artery-clogging bite.

A vegetarian friend of mine usually orders either the spring chopped salad served with a refreshing citrus champagne vinaigrette or the vegetable brown rice bowl, but always, always orders the organic local Brussel sprouts (smothered in garlic) from the Farm to Table Sides section of the menu.

Desserts are great at Lure as well, although I usually only have room for a scoop of either mango, lemon or raspberry sorbet, topped with a fresh raspberry chambord sauce. At lunch the other day, I ordered the amazing flourless chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream, caramel drizzle and organic chocolate nibs. If for no other reason, I will go back just for this dish.

Knowing I was going to do this review, I will admit going back to Lure a number of times trying to find something not up to par so as not to over rave. Lure has, however, designed its restaurant formula and well-trained its chefs and wait staff in quality food preparation and attentive and knowledgeable service. Other than occasional long waiting lines, Lure is now one of my favorite haunts in downtown Ventura.