Growing up, every year for my birthday I got to choose whatever meal I wanted and Mom would faithfully execute. This is what food as love in action looks like. Maybe it’s cultural; my Jewish and Italian heritage combining into one Voltron superhero of “let me feed you!” power. But I’m guessing some other folks out there of different backgrounds may have had a similar childhood experience in relation to food and family and love. Cornish game hens and chocolate fondue, that was young Johnny’s meal pick for many years running. It’s funny to think now. It’s a funny choice. My sister’s birthday meal was braciole, can’t recall the desert, but my hunch is she can. This custom has never stopped, only evolved. Now, Mom takes me out to eat every year on my birthday. Seafood has become the theme. It started years ago back in New York when Blue Water Grill became part of the tradition. Blue Water Grill is now closed, Mom and I both live in Los Angeles, but the fruit of the sea theme has remained. Busy schedules and a bad back have delayed this years’ birthday dinner, but on a Wednesday night in April I pick up Mom after work and we head to Lure Fish House.
In their own words “Lure Fish House is a family-owned restaurant featuring the freshest, sustainable seafood from trusted sources.” There are four locations from Thousand Oaks up to Santa Barbara. I have eaten in two. Actually, I have eaten in those two. Lure does a great job delivering on all your seafood restaurant needs. It’s a bright, fresh, clean atmosphere; like you’re dining at the rustic, yet fancy cabana of a movie star. A white, blue, grey color scheme prevails. Nautical artwork is simply placed. The menu has a generous mix of the offerings you hope for. They aren’t reinventing the wheel with bold, creative cuisine. Lure is about fresh seafood in classic styles done right. It’s upscale, but not so much they don’t have a TV playing sports at the bar. I have never had a bad meal there.
The weather is as topsy turvy as the world these days. The scary truth is that’s something we should start getting used to, but I’m not yet. As we make our way from the car Mom laments the unpredictability. It’s been flip-flopping between chilly and blazing hot. Did she bring a warm enough jacket? And how will the wind wreak havoc on her hair today? I tease her and she tells me I am mean. I remind her she teased me as a kid, it’s not my fault but it is poetry that I grew up to be so much better at it. This is some of our usual mother-son banter. I try to snap some photos for this entry and Mom demands photo approval. This only leads to more teasing on my part. We grab a table for two.
While the spirit of the birthday meal has remained the same, things have gotten more decadent over time. Eastern & Fanny Bay Oysters comprise the dozen that is our first course. The Eastern Oysters shine. I’m big on dressing up my oysters, so lemon has been squeezed, a dollop of horseradish added, a dip of cocktail sauce and down they go; briny, creamy and mineral. I selected the Sanford Gravity Flow Chardonnay from Santa Barbara to pair with my seafood delights. It shows medium acid, medium plus silky body, with lemon, nut, bread, and lychee flavors. It drinks great on its own and marries well with my dinner. Mom favors reds so I pardon the faux paz and order her the Meiomi Pinot Noir. It dances to a medium minus acid, medium body, with cherry, strawberry, wet leaves, leather, and roses tune. Grapes are sourced from Monterey, Santa Barbara, and Sonoma. This Pinot Noir perfectly showcases the fruitier California style of the varietal verses the earthier more muted French tradition. Lure takes smart advantage of it’s proximity to wine country to populate its’ list with many local labels. Both wines shine for us this evening. I take a stab at conducting an impromptu wine education class with Mom. It does not go well. “Hold the wine up, really stick your nose into the glass and take a breath, what do you smell?”, “Wine”. Sigh. There must be some poetry in this revenge as well. I wonder what I refused to learn. “You’re being stubborn,” I say, “I’m not. It smells like wine.” Mom retorts. “Try again please, this time just concentrate on cherries, really take your time, can you smell cherries?”, immediately she says, “Still just smells like wine”. While I brood, convinced she’s not trying, Mom is laughing at my frustration. But no matter, our lobsters have arrived. I did say more decadent.
While I’m dunking my lobster meat into melted butter and popping it in my mouth, I think about how lobsters were once the food of the poor. Insects of the sea. Few meals eat as rich and self-indulgent to me. The fire engine red shell giving way to sweet, chewy, savory goodness. Due to arthritis in Mom’s hands I have to help her break open parts of the shell. We make our way through claws, legs, and tails as we chat about family, my niece’s upcoming visit, our dogs and, as always, in my family, politics. Times have changed but tradition remains. It’s my birthday and I am eating exactly the meal I want to commemorate. Lure is a fine establishment to do just that.