Friday, June 17, 2011

Red Lantern: A beacon of hope

  COURTNEY SACCO/METRO


When is the last time you walked into a restaurant and were really impressed? Not by the food or drink, I mean, but, like, literally struck by how it looks. Been a while, right? If so, then a trip may be in order to Red Lantern, the new Asian-themed restaurant and lounge from the folks behind the stylistically similar Shrine at Foxwoods. With its distressed, exposed white brick, dozens of Buddha statues, paper bird cage lanterns and towering ceilings, it looks like an artfully crumbling temple that doubles as a sleek nightclub come sundown. You’d never know it was once a Bertucci’s chain franchise.

The sleek first impression, and what’s likely to be a flashy Back Bay-South End crowd, may give off the vibe that this is a style over substance operation, but so far I’ve been pleasantly surprised with both the confluence of Asian-influenced cuisine and more serious than you might expect cocktails.

Bar manager Joe O’Connor, also of Shrine and formerly doing great stuff at Gaslight, and his staff, including another Gaslight vet Lena Krivosheyeva, are seeing to the latter, with scorpion bowls, tiki-style cocktails and recipes that lean on the Asian theme using sake bases, plum, lemongrass, ginger and lychee throughout. Future iterations will include drinks served in hollowed out watermelons, honeydews, pineapples and the like.

I’ll have what he’s having

O’Conner favors the Bamboo Juice, made with Ron Zacapa 23-year rum, Don Julio tequila, passion fruit and pineapple juice. “It’s a tiki-style drink, served in a tiki mug, which is fun, and it fits the theme [of the bar]. It’s got a good kick with the rum and tequila, and the pineapple and passion fruit make it super refresh-ing.” And at $10, he says, the boozy blast “is a good bang for your buck.

Luke’s recs

If it’s spectacle you want, the Flaming Plum shot, made with Umeshu, a sweet and sour Japanese ume fruit liqueur, Palinka, a Hungarian brandy and fire (made with, uh, fire) will do for now. Just make sure you let it cool off first.

» I enjoyed a Manhattan variation made with Suntori Yamazaki whiskey, sweet vermouth and orange bitters, as well as the light, crisp and refreshing Mikado made with Green Chartreuse, lime juice, orange bitters and Prosecco.

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