There has been a lot of buzz lately about Red Lantern, a Chinese restaurant that also serves some Korean dishes, located along the edge of the International District. Unlike most restaurants in the area, the prices are on the high side and the ambience more upscale than one typically finds in the ID. In 2011, Seattle Met magazine considered it one of the best Chinese restaurants in Seattle.
Korean dishes in a Chinese restaurant are not all that unusual. There were many Chinese who immigrated to northern Korea and developed a unique cuisine, from which came two of the most popular dishes, jiajiangmyun and jahm bong noodles, both of which are tellingly on the menu at Red Lantern.
We decided to have dinner here before attending a talk at Benaroya Hall by Julie Otsuka who discussed her novel about Japanese picture brides (Buddha in the Attic).
Though it was cloyingly sweet, Basil Lime Shrimp was the best entrée. The shrimp, battered in cornstarch, was perfectly cooked and served piping hot. The sauce was overly thick from a combination of cornstarch and too much sugar, with lime so sparingly added that more would have gone a long way toward balancing the flavors. As it was, citrus was barely detectable. Also stingily added were basil leaves.
Curiously named is Mao’s String Bean, which was neither revolutionary nor made with string beans. Instead, Chinese long beans were cut into less than 1/4-inch pieces, stir-fried with ground chicken and a dark soy-based sauce, a dish that sounded more interesting than the execution. Even so, it wasn’t bad.
The dud was Salt and Pepper Pork Chops that lacked much flavor. The chops were sliced, battered and fried, but the flavor was dull and uninspired with not enough salt and pepper to justify its moniker. To make matters worse, some of the pieces were gristly and had bones in them, a not-uncommon Asian culinary practice, but surprising when hidden behind batter.
Maybe there are dishes at which Red Lantern excels. But based on three that were randomly chosen, it’s hard to understand how and why the restaurant has garnered the praise that it has. It’s not a bad restaurant, just not great as the reviews would have you believe.
520 S. Jackson St.
Seattle, WA 98104