Singapore Street Noodles at Red Lantern


Photo: JOEL VEAK

Sophisticated diners know to never judge a restaurant by its trappings. Dumpy-looking dives often serve fabulous food, while posh dining rooms don't always augur kitchen excellence. Still, I rarely hold high hopes for nightclubs - especially one opening on Stanhope Street, that awkward block at the edge of the Back Bay overlooking the Mass Pike canyon, long home to venues that prized style over culinary substance. So upon my first visit to Red Lantern (39 Stanhope Street, Boston, 617.262.3900), a restaurant and lounge from the folks behind Boylston Place discotheque The Estate and Foxwoods nightspot Shrine, I checked my great-food expectations at the door.

"Well, this place certainly is beautifully designed," I murmured, admiring the gigantic ceremonial doors, soaring ceilings, countless statues and holographic images of the Buddha, exposed old brick, and hundreds of glowing red paper lanterns. Red Lantern's lofty scale and expensive finishes make it impossible to imagine that a Bertucci's once squatted here. There's a roomy, bustling bar to one side, a five-seat sushi bar, and a vast dining room sprinkled with well-spaced, loungy seating. Generic Euro downtempo throbs insistently from the PA, evoking an American answer to Paris's Buddha Bar, or a less-vulgar version of Las Vegas's Tao. The cocktail list skews young with flavored-vodka concoctions ($12) and four-person Scorpion Bowls ($44). More promising is the sake bottle list, featuring bargains like Crazy Milk Nigori ($18 for 330 ml). Meanwhile, the menu covers a lot of pan-Asian territory, starting with an assortment of upscale dim sum.

A pair of duck buns ($8) fills steamed bao with finely textured duck meat sharply seasoned with hoisin, chili, and cilantro, delivering a superb mix of sweetness, fattiness, and capsicum heat. Dumplings and spring rolls, like the crisp lobster rangoons ($12), tilt similarly upmarket. A broad sushi and sashimi selection ($4-$49) balances traditional offerings with heavily spiced, cooked-filling rolls for the raw-averse. Entrees run luxurious: take the two-pound prime T-bone for two ($79) and the head-turning Broken Lobster ($39), a gorgeous stir-fry of mostly shelled lobster. Beyond the pretty room and pretty people, there's an entertaining show to be had at the eight-seat bar in front of the open kitchen, where you can watch a wok master deftly prepare your Singapore Street Noodles ($19). Super-skinny rice vermicelli are generously dotted with house-made char siu pork, chunks of shrimp, crisp vegetables, a few scary-hot whole dried chilies, a subtle Southeast Asian curry, and pungent XO sauce, all topped with garden-green raw pea tendrils. It's a beautiful, eminently fresh-tasting, deeply satisfying bowl of noodles, presenting myriad flavor facets with each bite. In the end, most folks will probably flock to Red Lantern for its exotically sexy, humming It Place atmosphere. To my surprise, I'll be back for the food.