Has anyone tried Lantern in Chapel Hill? I have read good things about it, but I want to know if it would be worth the drive(I live a ways away) for me to go there? How about vegetarian options? Any feed back would be great. Thanks!
People love it. It has a nice ambience and if you like Asian fusion, I think it might be worth a trip. It is in Chapel Hill, after all - you can always take a nice walk after dinner. Or try an appetizer at the bar in the back - I love it - it's dark and might make you think you're in a big city. If you like the food, order more. If not, wander across the street to Talullah's (Turkish) and nosh on something there, then get dessert at the somewhat posher Elaine's nextdoor. That said, my experiences at the Lantern have been mixed. The first couple of times I went, the cook must have just fallen in love, because the dishes were oversalted. Overall, I think the food is fine, but fairly expensive. I'm not big on paying megabucks for posh Asian-y food, which is probably why I'm not as crazy about the Lantern as many around here. It'll be interesting to see what other replies you get.
Lantern attempts to serve a more sophisticated Chinese cuisine in a chic modern setting. To me, it seems expensive, mediocre, and a bit pretentious. I recommend Merlion instead. It's less self-consciously hip, but the food is better. I have to admit, however, that I am a solitary voice of dissent on this subject. Everybody else seems to love Lantern. I suppose it's a question of what one looks for in a Chinese restaurant. To my mind, Red Palace (see below) is infinitely more interesting than Lantern, at half the price, but I tend to like the "ethnic" aspect of ethnic restaurants -- the weird ingredients, the surprising flavors, the waitresses who can't speak English, the kitschy decor.
Sinophile (formerly David A.)
One thing that rarely gets mentioned about Lantern that really should be is their commitment to local, naturally raised produce and meats. People often remark that it's significantly more expensive than other Asian places should realize part of that expense goes to support this effort. In fact, Andrea is now head of the triangle slow food chapter.
All that said, I've had some great meals there. Their wine list is top notch and the bartender is very talented.
I echo the praise for Lantern, but you asked about vegetarian options--last time I was there, there wasn't too much in the way of veggie choices. My husband and I actually ended up getting three appetizers and one main dish, rather than two entrees, because there was only one vegetarian entree on the menu. However, it was still a very enjoyable experience and the food was very good. They also make a mean dark & stormy with spicy ginger ale.
I'll have to give Merlion another try--we drove out there on the recommendation of a coworker, but were pretty disappointed. My husband's dish was just bad, and mine was pretty forgettable. Perhaps their other dishes are better. The waiter actually steered me away from the one that I wanted to get, telling me that it was kind of dry.
I too have had one or two mediocre dishes at Merlion -- mango chicken for example. And my wife hosted a faculty banquet there that received only mixed reviews.
On the other hand, I have enjoyed two fabulous banquets there, one with the Chowhound crowd, another with family. The family banquet was spectacular: ten dishes, all subtle in very different ways, all superb. There was nothing to criticize in the entire meal.
It may be that Merlion does not equally extend itself for all customers. The two winning banquets were planned long in advance and the owner was made to understand that a top-notch effort was expected. This is not to excuse whatever inconsistency there may be, but to explain.
Even so, I would choose Merlion over what seems to me the ersatz Chinese food at Lantern.