Chapel Hill, NC 27516
I found out about Lantern after asking the foodie blogosphere about places to go while I was in North Carolina for the weekend. I learned that the chef, Andrea Reusing is the 2011 James Beard Award winner for Best Chef Southeast and married to the head of a hipster record label (Arcade Fire!!!). The restaurant also has a ton of accolades from places like Gourmet magazine but what I found to be the most telling and coolest part of the website/chef is that she touts and praises her former chefs/kitchen staff on where they moved on to next after Lantern. These "alumni" all look to be part of what looks to be a pretty vibrant restaurant scene in the Research Triangle.
As you run down Lantern's menu, you can see that it prides itself in using locally sourced seasonal ingredients so it's squarely in the "farm-to-table" category of restaurants. It's also distinctly Asian in it's flavor with what felt like a more refined technique in it's preparation. Everything on the menu looked appetizing and that's the good thing about 9 people eating at the same table. We had a chance to try almost everything. There was also a freakish thunder storm that rolled in during dinner so you'll see my food pics go from perfect light to slightly dark all between the appetizers and entrees.
I should obligated to know what everyone ordered for appetizers (well, the whole meal too) so that I could probably record it in this space. Well....umm....yeah, I don't really remember. I was just too excited to eat my own order much less worry about the rest of the table. So, the list of appetizers that I know we got included: the soup of the day (wow. to this day I laugh when I see that because of Dumb and Dumber) which was sweet corn and heirloom tomatoes in almost like a thick chowder form; mine was the black & pepper shrimp; the heirloom tomato salad; the chaat; and spring rolls served cold.
Entrees. First thing I have to say is that 9 people at a table is an absolute sh*t show. I don't think the table we got really fit 9 people but the staff and restaurant were so nicely accommodating to us and they didn't have any larger tables so we had to make due. My point in mentioning this is that even if I wanted to be diligent in recording what everyone order, the sh*t show that 9 people does not allow for that. I did my best and hopefully that counts for a little. Mine was easy as I got the BBQ'd pork shoulder that could be served as a lettuce wrap, there was the smoked chicken with fried rice for my dad, the niece got a the whole fish special which was red snapper, my cousin got the Japanese style filet, and I think there were a couple seafood hotpots in the mix.
My little bites of each of the other dishes provided me a spectrum of Asian flavors. The red snapper came out crispy on the outside and flaky on the inside. The broth that came with it reminded me of a thai preparation and was absolutely spot on. The hotpot included shrimp, clams, lobster dumplings, some noodles and another astounding broth that had a ton of depth and flavor. The chicken by itself was a little ordinary but when eaten with the accompanying condiments (minced spring onions or hot chili flakes), it perked up quite a bit. The Japanese filet looked great. Yeah. Um...it looked great (dude, needs to learn how to share).
Lantern was recommended to me by some fellow foodies and all of them raved about it as a must-go to restaurant if I ever was in the Research Triangle area. I had a lot of expectations going in and after a pretty substantial meal for nine people, the service, the ambiance, and the food all lived up to those expectations. But, beyond the meal, I'm thankful for the restaurant to putting up with the large amount of family members that showed up. We're not the type of family to have reunions, even spontaneous ones, and this may have been the first one in a long time. It could have been a disaster with so many of us but the experience at Lantern made sure it was the furthest thing from that.
P.S. There was a pretty sudden thunderstorm that rolled in during dinner and you'll see in the pictures that they're nice and bright one course and then dark the next.