Walter Mencken 10 a.m., July 31
North End Lounge open in Little Italy
Busalacchi group replaces L'Angolino with a flashier, seafood-centric version of itself.
Apparently, the Busalacchi-owned L’Angolino North End Lounge wasn’t cutting it. The successful group, which seems to comprise half the restaurants in Little Italy, gave the former “little corner” a facelift. NE Lounge (1971 India Street), presumably for the “north end” of the neighborhood, opened a couple months back with much more stealth than fanfare. Considering how overdone the “Sopranos chic” Italian restaurant look is, the open, clubby look that NE got out of the deal is an improvement. Color-changing lights and a weirdly space age nautical design scheme make the place look pretty good. It’s designed to be the kind of place for spendy d-bags to throw money around and order bottle service, but it’s got a weird location for that kind of thing so it’s more likely going to stay sleepy and mellow than become a raging destination.
One big casualty of the NE reboot was the menu. Gone are the sandwiches, fish n’ chips, and substantial plates over which Bedford swooned when he first set foot in L’Angolino. Light seafood nibbles are the name of the game now, with shellfish taking over in a big way. Oysters raw and Rockefeller, steamed mussels and clams vaguely marinieres, “Asian style” calamari disguised as pad thai, etc. The best deal on the menu is the tacos: fish and chicken for $1.50, shrimp for $2.50, and lobster for $3.50 each. They are OK, and the salsa is better than the tacos themselves.
And then there is some chowder!
You wouldn’t think the flashy NE lounge would have wicked good chowdah but it does. Rather than futzing with the recipe and trying to innovate something that draws its strength from generation upon generation of stoic working-class tradition, NE’s kitchen let the chowder be chowder. It’s milky, buttery, briny, and studded with bits of clam and potatoes. No frills and very nice!
Despite its flashy intent, NE Lounge feels more like a place to chill out, eat some chowder, and drink a beer. Sure, the drinks menu lists $14 cocktails and the aforementioned bottle service, but why? $6 beers and generous bowls of soup are a much bigger draw. $18/dozen oysters isn’t that bad, either! It’s not a great price, but it lends itself towards mellow noshing and makes NE look much more casual than it wants to be. Whether or not that will be a problem for the lounge remains to be seen!
More like this:
- Fish Public opens strong — Aug. 5, 2013
- Gaslamp: Oceanaire on the cheap — Feb. 13, 2013
- Buck-a-shuck for oysters at Spike Africa’s, downtown — Jan. 27, 2013
- Fried fish at Quivira Basin — Oct. 9, 2012
- Bo's Seafood Market and Grill: Worth the Cost of Entry — Feb. 15, 2012