2009-03-11 / Restaurant of the Week

Legendary London Lennies

Gazette Restaurant of the Week • March 11, 2009

L ondon Lennies is part of what makes New York so unique. This legendary seafood restaurant got its start on Woodhaven Blvd. in 1959 after moving its roots from a modest fish 'n' chips shop in London. Today, the Barnes Family runs London Lennies with a total commitment to quality and serving the community that it loves. The premier seafood restaurant was recently honored with Wine Enthusiast's Award of Excellence and has an impressive collection of vintages that pair nicely with the best fish, raw bar and seafood available.

The well-appointed dining room resembles the Captain's quarters of a ship, with warm, polished wood, brass accents, regal carpeting and frosted glass light fixtures that emit a soft glow. The most impressive part of the dining room is the way you are warmly received by Mark, the manager, and the wait staff made up of professionals who are very knowledgeable about the menu items and make you feel very relaxed and welcome. Start with one of their specialty cocktails, such as the classic Manhattan, made with fine bourbon or one of a dozen mixed martinis for every taste.

(from L to R: Jeff Baruch, Executive Chef; Mark Connery, General Manager and Les Barnes, Owner (from L to R: Jeff Baruch, Executive Chef; Mark Connery, General Manager and Les Barnes, Owner I couldn't wait to try some of the oysters from the raw bar just at the entrance of the restaurant. These ocean-fresh mollusks were supremely fresh, having just been harvested from Wellfleet, on Massachusetts' Cape Cod. A squeeze of lemon or a dab of horseradish and cocktail sauce brings out the wonderful briny flavor. Several other varieties of oysters and clams are available, depending on the day's market. Executive chef Jeffrey Baruch creates sushi, sashimi and specialty rolls that dazzle the eye as well as the palate. While one could make a meal of these alone, I prefer to sample them as a first course. Thick slices of bright pink tuna, orange salmon and gleaming white eel rest upon little mounds of sticky rice to create sushi and sashimi. Handmade rolls are so artfully prepared and perfect for sharing, sliced into mouth-sized pieces. Next, I sampled a bowl of soup of the day, a rich roasted corn and crabmeat chowder with tiny diced potatoes that was creamy and hearty. Share a generous serving of steamers, crispy baked clams or tender fried calamari rings before you head into your main course.

Who says you have to be rich to afford fine seafood? London Lennies is proud to offer a special "Seafood on a Shoestring" Menu, available Monday through Thursday from 4pm to 10pm, and on Fridays from 4pm to 5:30pm. The price fixed menu allows you to sample many of their world class favorite dishes for just $25. The 3-course meal starts with a choice of appetizers, including a cup of Manhattan or New England clam chowder, or steamed dumplings filled with crab and shrimp, or crispy fried calamari or salad. Next, the entrées include their famous "Down East Shore Dinner", where a 1-pound lobster, mussels, steamers, corn on the cob and potatoes are placed in a net bag and steamed together, just like on the shore. An authentic fish fry is also available, made with flaky scrod, flounder and shrimp in Lennies famous beer batter. Cedar plank salmon has a nice woodsy flavor, accompanied by duchess potatoes and sautéed vegetables. Linguine with sautéed shrimp and scallops gets added flavor from leeks, tomatoes and fresh basil.

Another entrée item on the "Shoestring" menu is the braised short ribs of beef, cooked until they have reached melt-in-mouth tenderness and served off the bone on a heap of horseradish whipped potatoes with port wine demi glaze and wilted spinach. The prix fixe menu concludes with a choice of dessert such as cheesecake, house made banana cream pie or rice pudding laced with rum-soaked raisins.

I would like to point out here that although London Lennies is famous for fish and seafood, their meat dishes rival any found in steak houses. Their 18- ounce grilled rib-eye steak will satisfy any meat and potatoes person. Just thinking of those short ribs still makes me drool, and you'd pay considerably more for such quality elsewhere.

Debbie, the veteran server, described in detail, some of the daily specials, which included smoky, citrus-glazed Mahi Mahi with grilled pineapple salsa and sweet potato matchstick fries ($22). Five spice rubbed tuna was simply a picture, just seared on the outside and cool inside, as tuna this fine should be served. This Asian-inspired dish was served with a side of Thai mustard greens, whole wheat soba noodles and Chinese hoisin sauce, all coming together in a panoply of flavor and texture. Even the peasant dish of fish and chips, from where it all began for Lennie, is elevated to an art form with the secret batter that almost floats in the air and to your waiting mouth. The fish is impossibly flaky, yet moist and tender, accompanied by chips and a bottle of malt vinegar.

A meal at London Lennies is a treat that is within reach to all. Serving the finest and freshest fish, seafood and raw bar, along with steak and more, Lennies has something for everyone, even those on a shoestring budget. Celebrating 50 years in Queens, congratulations to the Barnes Family!

London Lennies 63-88 Woodhaven Boulevard, Rego Park, NY • 718.894.8084 www.londonlennies.com

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