CUTLINE: DUCK AND ROLL Fake Chinese restaurants can be terrible, but dishes like these duck spring
rolls prove Red Lantern is one of the good ones.
As a major fan of authentic Chinese food, I don't quite get these "revivalist" fake Chinese restaurants. I know the mission — this column is here to help the readers pick the good ones (which Red Lantern is) from the weaker ones. But the format is inherently suspect, and I was apprehensive given the résumés of chef Kevin Long and Big Night Entertainment. In addition, Red Lantern's menu (and the design of the giant room) hedges its bets — there's a decent sushi bar, a drinking bar with sports on the TVs, a flurry of hot-pot tables, and some serious steaks.
The giant room, stripped back to the whitewashed bare brick of the original livery stable, is almost like a food court. Breaking up a large space into subspaces with different seating plans works well at the Beehive, and it may work here. It's loud — like almost all restaurants now — with enough of the eponymous red lanterns to make the point, and enough roly-poly luck-god statues to make one reconsider immoderate dining.
The duck egg roll ($12) is a good harbinger of the kind of nostalgia/fusion practiced here. It is served like sushi, cut into standing pieces, and filled with a spiced confit-duck meat that gets mostly lost in the accompanying cabbage, but it comes with a hoisin-tinged sweet dip that makes it hard to resist. "Calamari crunchy" ($12) shows off a novel idea: slice the squid into long strips like chicken fingers before breading and frying. Grape tomatoes are cut in, which is cool, and the dip is a hotted-up whipped butter. The right dip might well be the "white miso aioli" served with warm edamame ($7). The soybeans come in their hairy shells, from which one typically licks a bit of sea salt. Here we dip, and the dip looks like mayonnaise but has soy-salty and garlic flavors. I am stealing this idea for artichokes at home.
We ordered kumamoto oysters ($15) from the sashimi menu, although the presentation on red sea salt, with sides of candied ginger and chili sauce, was more similar to oyster plates than sashimi. Kumamotos are Pacific oysters with deep, fluted shells and lots of oyster inside — but here you only get four. I've had sweeter local oysters, but these were fine. The kitchen lost our order of dumplings, and overcompensated later in the meal with a full "signature pupu platter" ($30/$60). (Protip: Having a service problem in a new restaurant? Just take out a pocket notebook and start scribbling.) Ours had another order of the fine duck spring rolls, lobster Rangoon ($12/a la carte) with as little seafood flavor as anyone's, boneless spareribs ($12), pedestrian shu mai, and kalbi beef skewers ($11), which were not so distinctively Korean as the menu implies, but very good to eat.