>> 3/16/07

63-88 Woodhaven Boulevard
Rego Park, NY 11374
(718) 894-8084

If you’re ever traveling down Woodhaven Boulevard… and I can’t think of a reason why you would be xcept that you got lost headed home after spending a day at the mall, you’ll pass London Lennie’s, a wood paneled, old-school style seafood restaurant. London Lennie’s does not feel like New York City. I realize that it's hard to really explain what that means, but if you've ever been to a nice restaurant in smaller, less corporate cities such as Albany or elsewhere, there's a distinctly less formal feeling to them. From the very minute the valet takes your car, you start to get the impression that regulars come here… regularly (and that they all seem to be having birthdays).

Peeking around the place after walking in, the first thing you notice, after the standing-room only crowd, is that the walls are wood. Thick, dark, and covered with art deco posters reminding whoever Lennie is of what his home turf was like in the 1920s. You can almost picture the walls aglow with gas lanterns. Like a glass pyramid of inebriation, the bar towers over the northern half of the restaurant. This is not some small bistro made for romantic interludes. Leather booths that can seat more than 6 hug one wall. A tall table occupied by suits sucking down oysters is next to some guys looking like they just finished a shift unloading trucks. This is one of those rare places where anything you wear makes you look like you fit in (I’ll complain about this later). But London Lennie’s isn’t cheap. This is pure guesstimation, but figure that an average meal of an appetizer, an entrée, and a drink without dessert, would be around $40 per person.

Asian Fever hit the city a few years ago. I don't mean bird flu, though ironically, those most afflicted handle food. Specifically the trendy restaurateur population. Thai restaurants and sushi bars have been popping up like Starbuckses, each one making the concept of eating Thai and Japanese about as interesting as having a pretzel in Herald Square only less unique. Don't get me wrong, I love Thai and Japanese, but variety is the spice of life. I would have thought that a place like London Lennie’s, which presents the same old-school, traditional aura as Smith & Wollensky (though with neither the price tag nor stuffiness) would be have been immune from this bug. I would also be wrong. The menu is full of Japanese-themed dishes. There’s sushi, soba noodles, dumplings, chopsticks on the table by the forks when you’re seated. Of course, maybe Lennie lived in Tokyo between London and New York, I which case I shut my mouth. However, it lends the meal a schizophrenic air.

The first thing you get after your microbrew is a massive loaf of bread. I know some people who would choose a bad restaurant over a good one simply because they prefer the bread that they get at the table while placing an order. That isn't my first priority, but they’d like this bread. I might too if its crust didn’t explode across the table like grenade shrapnel. It’s far too crusty and that crustiness isn’t helped by the fact this huge baked ball is on a tiny cutting board meant for cheese that it barely fits onto.

Being a seafood restaurant, London Lennie’s fish selection is large and varied. There’s a raw bar selection, and the Blue Point oysters I ordered were excellent, presented with a selection of three sauces to dip them in (naturally, one was Asian-ish). The New England clam chowder was something I liked very much. Smooth, creamy, flavorful. Those I was eating with were less impressed though, feeling that there were too many potatoes and too few clams. They had a similar complaint about the Manhattan clam chowder. I say don’t listen to them. Order the chowder.

The entrées we ordered, pignoli nut crusted red snapper, organic grilled salmon, peppercorn-crusted mako shark, and the east-coast seafood bouillabaisse were all enjoyed with the only serious complaint being that some of the dishes were perhaps a bit too dry for the taste of whoever ordered it. I never noticed. Having sampled all of the dishes, I thought that that they were all pretty moist and quite good. I do wish that the Asian-Fever-struck salmon I ordered had a less tart, more sweet sauce. But that was pretty much my only issue.

If you love lobster and are willing to pony up the dough to get one, London Lennie's has a whole tank of them. When I went they ran as heavy as six pounds. There's also a turf menu if ever you find yourself there with some unfortunate soul who doesn’t like fish. But like their seafood, Lennie’s steaks aren’t free. So lubbers should expect to part with some wallet stuffing when they order.

As I mentioned, anything you wear here is acceptable. And frankly that’s what irritated me the most. I always try to look nice when I go out, or at least not like I just woke up. And I while I’m not saying not to wear jeans (I wore them) I draw the line at hoodies and keeping your Giants cap on at the table. Most people looked fine, but there were a noticeable handful who were just too slobby for my taste. And the staff was too nice to say “this isn’t Long John Silver’s. Take of the hat, sir.” I recognize that it’s a minor complaint that has nothing to do with the food, service, or décor but I mention it nonetheless.

Just like Manhattan, you’re about as likely to find a parking spot on the street around here as win the lotto, so you’re better off using the valet. If you don’t own a car, enlist a friend who does or get a ZipCar subscription, because you’ll need to transfer from the local subway to the bus and back again without one.

Hungry but can’t eat out? They sell fresh fish to take home, too.


Sean McGinley,  February 26, 2008 at 2:07 PM  

The food has gone downhill somewhat over the past 2 years. The food is not bad, but it is not as consistenly good as it used to be, and very hit or miss. This corresponds to about the time they added a lot of the asian inspired items, especially the sushi style items.

The New England Clam Chowder used to be one of the best, but as your fellow diners noticed the potatoes have been upped and the clams have been lacking.

This restaurant used to be a tiny seafood shack, serving chowders and fried items. For some time they expanded for the better, adding some more gourmet inspired items along the way. However, I feel it has gotten too far away from what made it great.

Note: London Lennies please get back to the basics and quit experimenting. Please concentrate on fresh seafood simply cooked to perferction.

Anonymous,  October 22, 2008 at 11:38 AM  

The food is great! The servers are very friendly and knowledgable. I have not found a better restaurant in Queens.

EricMM,  January 10, 2010 at 5:40 PM  

London Lennie's is the best restaurant in the area, and actually draws people from Manhattan and Nassau. I've never tried the Asian stuff and never will. The New England clam chowder is good, but my complaint is the celery...I hate it in a New England chowder....and no chowder ever has enough clams unless I make it myself. I go for the raw bar, which has always been impeccably fresh, and the simple fish or seafood dishes. It has not declined at all in that respect, if anything its better than ever. While its not cheap, its not all that expensive considering the type of food. (The exception is the lobster, which is pricey and actually not all that good..they stay in the tanks too long. Look'll see that not that many order lobster.) The best deal is with wine..LL's wine list has been written up in some wine magazine. The selection is good...varied, but not so extensive that you get confused and lose track. Prices are excellent...many available by the glass for as low as $6.00, and one of the few places where you can get a great bottle for under $30.

Jane June 25, 2010 at 5:38 PM  

I live very close to London Lennies, and have been there more times than I can count. What I've learned over the years is to stick to the raw and the simply prepared. If I do that, I leave happy every time. Their oysters are beyond fresh (the kumomotos are my fave), the seafood tower is a meal for two all by itself, and their linguini with red clam sauce is some of the best I've tasted. I agree with your fellow diners that some of the fish dishes (on the specials list) can be dry. I've learned my lesson and rarely look at that section.
The service is great. The drinks even better. Try the Bloody Lenny! Excellent Bloody Mary mix and a huge shrimp as a garnish justify the price tag- I believe it was $9 or $10 last time I ordered it. Also, and this is the best part, LL has my all time favorite beer- Hitachino! Never heard of it? Look it up. The tasties, crispest, most flavorful (without being overwhelming) beer on the planet! I literally know of one other place that carries it. I'd go there just for the beer and oysters for sure. We're lucky to have this place in the neighborhood. And really- their sushi is quite good for a non traditiona sushi place. I was pleasantly surprised!

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