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Huntington Social

Huntington Social is a newcomer on the club

Huntington Social is a newcomer on the club scene, with a restaurant that serves dinner earlier and transforms into a lounge on the second floor, serving inventive Prohibition-style cocktails. (Sept. 24, 2011) Photo Credit: Steve Pfost

The nighttime buzz in downtown Huntington just got a lot louder.

Huntington Social, a nimble combo of gastro pub, lounge and stylized restaurant heightens the rivalry among eateries in a very competitive neighborhood. The result: You win.

Just north of the newly opened Paramount theater, in the upstairs space vacated by Chesterfields, Huntington native Christopher Lee is having fun tweaking favorites and showcasing talents he displayed at Aureole and Gilt in Manhattan, as well as on TV's "Top Chef Masters."

You'll easily find the entrance to this second-floor spot, which must sport the lone velvet rope on the block.

The wood door has an open-and-close window, to underscore the whimsical speak-easy send-up. Plenty of exposed brick here, thin blinds, cushy half-round banquettes, a handsome bar, liquor lockers for "VIP Members" to lease, and enough beer, wine and booze for an outtake of "Prohibition."

They go with the food.

THE BEST

Chef Lee sends out a delicious opener dubbed Mary's Meatballs, from the flavorful recipe of co-owner Larry Rizzo's grandmother. They rest on creamy polenta. Lee playfully mixes two favorites with veal-cheek banh mì sliders, rife with cilantro and finished with citrus-sesame aioli. His mellow, wild-mushroom risotto, enriched with duck confit and cranberries and capped with sage, manages to be harmonious rather than overorchestrated. There's the obligatory beet-and-goat-cheese salad, given crunch with candied walnuts. And an excellent version of crisp pork belly, recklessly rich, appears atop braised green cabbage, with a puree of smoked apple and spiced-mustard jus -- a spin on choucroute, not too garnie. Tagliatelle with summer corn, spinach, bacon and charred jalapeños merits a return when the weather warms again. Likewise, the wild striped bass in tomato-caper sauce. Fibrous Black Angus strip loin vies with a juicy spin on the bacon cheeseburger. Roasted pumpkin crème brûlée for dessert.

THE REST

That grilled fontina sandwich turns unwieldy with braised short ribs. Truffled egg toast might be better for morning-after breakfast. Fried chicken: a bit bland. Tarte Tatin isn't cooked through; red-velvet cupcakes, just dry.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Showtime.

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