If you want to try a restaurant that has an upbeat edge to it the Red Lantern in Redwood City will hit the spot.
We read…"Owner Jeffery San Diego Viognier and MC2 has assembled a team that includes executive chef of Betelnut in San Francisco." The ambiance is very clubbish, a little loud, downright dark, but intriguingly decorated with an Asian flare.
Do: Get a reservation
Donâ€™t: Order all your dishes at once or youâ€™ll be swamped with food served with complete disregard for vegetarian specific patron requests or the pairing of sides with entrees.
The fare offers a wide selection of Asian, Indonesian, Thai and Philippine influences. Think of your favorite upscale Thai restaurant and multiply it times 10! This restaurant does not apparently know the meaning of the word subtle. Everything we had with the exception of the Rangoon Clay Pot fish was flavored over the top and in your face but the food works and certainly stands up to the generous cocktails they promote at the bar.
Itâ€™s best to go with a group of friendsâ€”if youâ€™re adventuresome youâ€™ll want to try as many dishes as possible. Thereâ€™s a section called Delightful Bliss which could be equated to the appetizer section of most menus. In most restaurants this section is where youâ€™ll find some of the chef’s best creations and the Red Lantern is no exception.
All of the dishes can be shared family style or you can stake claim to one all for yourself. One of our guests was a vegetarian and she felt quite comfortable with the menuâ€™s varied selections.
We started ordering from the small plate section and no sooner did we do so than dishes started arriving. Next time I plan on pacing the kitchen since the wait staff we dealt with didnâ€™tâ€”they tend to really crank out the food fast and furious.
First to arrive was the Poke Tuna ($10) (which Iâ€™ve had before) and is by no means a belly filler. Despite its overly salty flavor the Tuna was fresh and enhanced with a drizzling of sesame oil which delivered an Asian flare. The four of us could have easily had two orders of this but we opted to save our appetites in order to try as many dishes as possible.
Next we simultaneously received an onslaught of small plates; six shelled Westcott Bay oysters with a sweet dipping sauce, Balinese seared bay boat scallops ($10) severed over crisp coconut rice, their Adobong Pinoy ($9) pork short ribs with Adobo sauce and black pepper, and the Lumpia ($7) vegetarian taro egg rolls were fried perfectly and served with their sweet chili dipping sauceâ€”an excellent value.
Disappointingly the Oysters were minuscule and couldnâ€™t stand up to the overly sweet sauce. At $18 for six these were a letdown.
The scallops are served three to an order and since there were four of us our waiter thoughtfully told us heâ€™d have the kitchen make us an extra one. Unfortunately, he promptly forgot. Having received only three I didnâ€™t want to intrude on the others and passed on that dish; though everyone who ate them said they were delightful and at $10 they seemed like a fair price for their size.
The short ribs at ($9) were good but tasted boiled not broiled and lost some of their flavor in the processâ€”always a trade-off when the chef tries to make fall-off-the-meat ribs; though the accompanying Adobo sauce was nice, it wasnâ€™t as spicy as I would have imagined it should be with Chipotle peppers.
A healthy portion of the Adobo eggplant arrived which was nicely spiced if a tad bit overcooked.
We took a short break and ordered another round of their house Mojito and waited for several main courses and side dishes which we had wisely ordered well after our small plates.
The service was a little scattered and our drinks never arrived until well into our main courses. Their system employs food runners which mean you often get your food fast and hot out of the kitchen but youâ€™ll have a hard time tracking down your waiter when you want them.
Somewhat incongruently the Crab Fried Rice ($9) (a house specialty we were told), and their Oseng Oseng Buncis ($10) spicy green beans reminiscent of those at Betelnut , Chiang Mai ($9) or green papaya salad (named after its Thai roots) with Kaffir lime leaves, and the Siamese Beef Salad ($9) were plopped at our table before the main entrees arrived.
The crab fried rice is good if not a bit expensive for what you getâ€”essentially a bowl of fried rice with bits of crab.
Iâ€™ve had more exotic beef salads at some local Thai restaurants but Iâ€™m not complaining. It had a nice blend of flavors including fresh basil and lime and the sprouts were crisp with the meat cooked perfectly medium rare. The Green Papaya salad ($9) we shared was served dressed excellently in a traditional Thai sweet sauce but the few small shrimp they threw in were utterly unnecessary and flavorless.
The green beans may be pricey but worth a try at least once. The menu says they are in a Palm Sugar Soy with more Kaffir lime leaves but they also give them a dousing of what seems like Thai red chili sauceâ€”nice touch.
At $22 (the most expensive dish on the menu) the Rangoon Clay Pot consisted of the freshest Chilean sea bass I have ever tasted swathed with mushrooms and a black bean relish. Though I would rather see them serve a more sustainable alternative to Chilean Sea Bass, I thought it simply one of the best I have had and worth every dollar they charged for it.
Since I like spicy and I mean spicy as in hot food, I ordered the Chicken Rendang ($14). Cooked in a thick coconut broth with chilies and galangal this dish was absolutely delicious and a meal in itself.
Of course we were stuffed beyond belief but having felt we were close to conquering a good sampling of the menu, we continued and ordered the Putri Nanusâ€”a Pineapple upside down cake with vanilla bean gelato and warm cinnamon sauce just to punish ourselves. And that we did. That dish added another $8 to the bill and offered no satisfaction whatsoever. The cake itself tasted more like Pillsbury shortbread and it was dense and, well, unremarkable.
Total bill for all this $205 including two rounds of cocktailsâ€”the cab ride was extra.
Multiple variations of ethnic foods prepared sometimes flawlessly
Lots or thoughtful vegetarian dishes for everyone to enjoyâ€”not your perfunctory meatless variation of another dish
Affordable pricingâ€”you can go all out or attempt some self discipline
A little loud and the dining area gets turned into a weekend night club dance floor so they sort of rush you out at the end (11:00).
The wait staff seems disinterested in firing orders to the kitchen in any order that makes sense to the patrons.
But donâ€™t get me wrong. Iâ€™m absolutely going back.
Situated near the newly redeveloped downtown section of Redwood City just off Broadway at 808 Winslow–(650) 369-5483.
Drew Morgan, the author, Ex-chef and Restaurateur, now enjoys being a guest.