By LINDA GIUCA
Special To The Courant
January 9, 2014
Picture a Sunday afternoon in a Chinese restaurant where a multi-generational family gathers around the table to savor dish after dish. Picture a sleek, glossy space where brick, stone, black leather, polished wood touches and red ceiling lanterns combine for a sophisticated setting. Enjoy the option of a cocktail in the relaxed surroundings of a lounge or the lively setting of a nightclub.
All three elements are rolled into one at the Red Lantern Restaurant & Lounge, which opened in September at Foxwoods Resort Casino. Located on the second floor, the restaurant sits atop Shrine nightclub and occupies the space that was formerly Shrine's restaurant.
"You can come and dine at Red Lantern and go downstairs and enjoy Shrine," says Randy Greenstein, a co-owner of the Boston-based Big Night Entertainment Group. "Or you can have a quiet Scotch upstairs in the Red Lantern bar." The restaurant lounge tends to be a little more low-key than the high-energy Shrine. In each of the venues, though, "we're going for the fun, vibrant and energetic experience but warm and sexy as well."
After 5-1/2 years, Shrine's dining space was due for a makeover, says Kevin Long, executive chef of Big Night Entertainment, which created and owns Shrine, High Rollers and Scorpion Bar at Foxwoods, Red Lantern in Boston and at Foxwoods and three other venues in Boston. The success of the original Red Lantern in Boston – diners using the online reservation service OpenTable voted it a "hot spot restaurant" in 2012 and 2013 – inspired the creation of the sister restaurant in Connecticut.
"The shelf life of restaurants, clubs and bars in the public's eye is short," Long says. "We've had great success and national recognition for Shrine as a nightclub, but in brainstorming ideas we loved the concept that we built for Red Lantern in Boston. We took everything we learned [at the Boston Red Lantern] and used it to re-liven and re-invigorate the restaurant level."
The idea was to make the Red Lantern restaurant space as much of a destination as the Shrine nightclub. Even Greenstein admits there wasn't the same emphasis on the food at Shrine as there is at Red Lantern. The oversized red entrance doors can welcome 225 guests at a time to the restaurant that features an open kitchen, a sushi counter, curved brick walls, black leather banquettes and red lanterns hanging from the ceiling.
While the menus at the Foxwoods and Boston restaurants are similar, Long worked closely with Dave Kiddy, head chef at the Foxwoods Red Lantern, to differentiate the offerings in Connecticut. "Our goal was to keep [the menu] almost close to identical but to add different touches because we didn't want it to be cookie cutter," Long says.
The menu is large, with more than 20 appetizers, wood-grilled and wok entrees, noodle and fried rice dishes, and sushi. Prices range from $7 white miso soup to a high of $44 for American Wagyu rib-eye, although most dishes hit the teens and 20s mark. There also is an extensive gluten-free menu.
"The food holds up to whatever a guest is looking for, whether you want to eat something elaborate like a whole duck or a whole fish or something more simple like sushi," Long says. "Sushi is always great, and we have a lot of signature rolls."
One such specialty is the Red Dragon Roll, a re-invented spicy tuna roll with minced tuna and a red miso chili sauce glaze. The chefs also devised an Asian take on the New England lobster roll – sushi-style tempura lobster tail with flying fish caviar, avocado and wasabi mayonnaise. The roast duck is served in the traditional style with Peking pancakes, hoisin and duck sauce, cucumber and scallion, while the whole bass is wok-cooked with braised ginger, scallion, sesame and Chinese brown sauce.
Foxwoods guests have singled out certain dishes. "In Connecticut, we've had really great luck with our Chinatown-style, more traditional dishes such as beef and broccoli made with flash-fried short rib meat. Another best seller, says Long, is the Singapore Noodles made with rice stick noodles, shrimp, scallops, pork, housemade XO sauce and a touch of Madras curry.
Chef Long, who has cooked for more than 20 years and has experience in French and Italian restaurants, serves his Asian fare in generous portions with the hope that guests will share the dishes.
"Asian food is celebratory," Greenstein says, "and we promote 'the whole party shares' attitude because it's a lot of fun."
The restaurant also features daily specials and theme nights. Monday is #MisoHungry night, offering bottomless miso soup and a choice of fried rice or lo mein. Sushi stars on Wednesdays when endless sushi emanates from the kitchen.
>>The Red Lantern, 240 MGM Grand Drive, Mashantucket, is open from 5 to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; and 5 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday with lounge hours from 5 to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. Reservations and information: 860-312-8480 and www.RedLanternFoxwoods.com.
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