“In Japan, these red lanterns are known as akachōchin, and during the 18th century, they indicated the presence of an izakaya, a sake bar where you could also nibble on some snacks. Over time, izakayas began to refer to any Japanese bar that served food to accompany alcohol. The lantern that I saw was located outside of Red Lantern, an Asian restaurant and bar which opened this past June.”
It is a large restaurant, able to sit about 250 people, and the décor includes much appealing red and dark wood colors. The main dining section has smaller tables for couples, larger, circular tables for groups, as well as booths with leather clad seats. You can also sit in front of the sushi bar or even at the counter facing the open kitchen with its wood-fired grill and wok stations. There is a separate room with a 40 foot marble topped bar and a couple televisions. In addition, there is the Apothecary room, a private dining area that can hold 40 people.
Everywhere you turn, scattered all over the room, you will notice striking Buddha and Asian statutes. If you look up, you will notice the ceiling is filled with red lanterns. The ambiance is hip but with traditional elements that combine in a pleasing décor. It would be a great place for couples or groups, and on a Wednesday evening, the restaurant was packed with a diverse crowd.
The Executive Chef is Kevin Long, who started working in 1995 at Tosca in Hingham. Chef Long is now in charge of all the kitchens of Big Night Entertainment Group, though his primary focus is currently Red Lantern.
They have a fully stocked bar, with a wide range of choices, and their selections are being revised and expanded. Beverage Director Joe O’Connor stated they want the cocktail list to be big and fun, and they have created numerous Asian influenced drinks. You’ll find martinis like the Drunken Samurai, made with Moonstone Asian Pear Sake, Amaretto, and fresh lemon juice. You’ll also find cocktails like the Wasabi Mary, made with vodka and Red Lantern’s Wasabi Bloody Mix. Other special drinks include the huge Scorpion Bowl for four and The Flaming Plum shot.
You will find 16 available wines by the glass as well as over 60 wines by the bottle. Their wine list is predominantly Californian but with French Champagnes and a few wines from other regions like Argentina and South Africa. To my pleasure, they also sell nine sakes by glass and 14 by the bottle. Plus, you will find numerous beers, both draft and bottle.
The food menu is large, but not overly so, and is broken down into appetizers, dim sum, soups & salads, noodles, fried rice, specialties & wok dishes, steaks and side dishes. Some of their specials include a Pu Pu Platter and a Whole Roasted Hong Kong Duck that serves up to four. There is also a menu of reasonably priced sushi, sashimi and maki rolls.
Five of us dined together, including Bobby (Scene’s Publisher), Jazz (Scene’s Art Director), Shaina of Big Night Entertainment Group and Alyson of Elevate Communications. It was a fun group of food lovers so that the conversation never dulled as we sampled and enjoyed the delights of Red Lantern. Our main server was Kai Le, a personable, professional and energetic person, who explained the various dishes and made sure to promptly cater to our needs.
We began with a few small plates to whet our appetite. The Duck Buns include two warm, steamed buns filled with plenty of tender and savory Hoisin duck. They were accompanied by some mirin pickles, an addictive side which were crisp and had a spicy kick to them. The creamy avocado salad, with cucumber, tobiko, crabstick and yuzu, greatly appealed to Shaina and Alyson while Bobby and Jazz were particularly drawn to the Hot & Sour Soup. This soup has 5-spice tofu, pork broth, mushrooms and white pepper. It possesses a deep, meaty taste with lots of umami. Bobby feels this is the best hot and sour soup he has ever had, and it ranks very highly with me as well.
Up next, we tried some sushi and sashimi, including Toro and Dressed Hamachi. The Toro looked so enticing, large slices of well marbled belly, and were silky smooth on the palate. Pure bliss. The fresh Hamachi slices were also appealing with only mild heat and almost citrus flavor. We also tried a few maki rolls and the Crunchy Roll, with salmon toro, tobikko, crab stick, and crunchy bits was the clear favorite, though the Spicy Tuna performed very well too.
I was enamored with the Singapore Street Noodles, a large bowl of thin noodles with pieces of shrimp, scallop, and pork in a Madras Curry and XO sauce. It was a light dish, with great textures and lots of flavor. The Mongolian Steak, slices of skirt steak with garlic, ginger and mushrooms, would please any carnivore with its tender beef and rich flavors. It was accompanied by a bowl of sweet potatoes with a crispy exterior and a soft, sweet interior. The Tik Tok Chicken was another winner, with chunks of water chestnut golden chicken, atop white rice and topped by crisp wonton chips. It has a blend of sweet and spicy flavors, with mild tastes of orange.
Frankly, I would even come to Red Lantern just for dessert. The Pineapple Bread Pudding, with coconut ice cream, was superb, a perfect blend of tropical flavors. The bread pudding had a nice firm, but soft, texture and it was bursting with a fresh pineapple taste. The Tempura Bananas are like banana-filled spring rolls and the dish is large enough for two people. The Bread Pudding is also large enough for two people, but you might not want to share because it is so delectable.
Overall, I was very impressed with Red Lantern. It is reasonably priced for the quality and quantity of their dishes, and there is something for everyone, no matter their preference. Take a group of friends to Red Lantern and have a fun and delicious evening.