Thursday, 30 January 2014

Restaurant Review: Basil

Basil Thai Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Hello, Food Fans! For those of you who didn't know, last week (which somehow came and went quicker than the winter weather that has hit most of the country by this point) was Columbus's seasonal tradition of Restaurant Week. With the busy schedule that seems to have caught one too many off-guard, including me, I was only able to get a taste of one menu (if you don't count the delicious espresso chocolate mousse cupcake I had at The Crest). This time around, the Short North's Basil (1124 N High St) was ultimately the reigning choice. And so, Brianne, Nicole, and I headed over to what was once an antique shop and one of the many restaurants I have been meaning to try out for a while now.

Basil's $20 prix fixe menu for the January iteration of Restaurant Week actually included four courses (instead of the typical three for nearly all the others), which was more than enough to feed this food and culture blogger. But first things first... To go with my meal, I ordered a glass of the 2009 Chateau Ste Michelle Riesling, which the wine menu noted is the winemakers choice pairing with Thai cuisine. (And with it being one of the cheaper options, why not, right?) Wow, was I impressed. Sweetly soft and smooth, it had a refreshing crisp ending which calmed the subtly spicy tones of my meal. This is definitely one variety I plan to get again in the future.

Thank goodness I had that Riesling from the onset, as the spice (which if you know me well enough, I'm still learning to get past) made its appearance during our first course of tom yum soup (as an aside, the other choice was vegetable). In reality, the "spicy soup" wasn't incredibly spicy; in fact, I don't quite remember getting much heat from it (though, it was probably because of the wine). Given the cold weather that evening, the soup was certainly more warming than anything else. As I went in for each spoonful, the bright herbaceousness coming from the lemongrass, lime juice, and citrus leaves were rather pronounced without overdoing it, while the mix of ground chicken and straw mushrooms gave an interesting set of textures to each bite.

In a nut shell (or I guess, in crispy deep fried rice wrapper), our second course highlighted what I think is one of Basil's high points: they know how to fry. Brianne ordered the chicken egg roll, which seemed to be stuffed more with vermicelli noodles than ground chicken, and also included carrots and cabbage. Without question, the overall flavour was ramped up by the sweet and sour sauce. Nicole got the tempura battered sweet potato fries which were cooked perfectly, with just the right amount of a toothy bite engulfed by the crunch of the tempura batter. As was the case with the egg roll, the sweet potato fries tasted even better with their accompanying sauce, in this case a Thai vinaigrette.

On my end, I tried my luck with the crab cream cheese wontons, and was quite happy with my choice. My one gripe with it, though, was the over abundance of fried wonton wrapper; minus the excessive quantity (i.e., the part without any of the delicious filling), this is a starter I would have no trouble eating more of.

Brianne and Nicole's third course came in the form of one of Basil's specialties, Kee Mow [version], minus bean sprouts. Also written as Kee Mao or known as Drunken Noodles [version], this wide rice noodle dish is stir-fried with bell peppers, tomatoes, onions, and Thai basil.

My choice was in the form of Basil's other specialty, and our server's favourite, Pad Ka Praw [version]. Made with basil, onions, bell peppers and garlic sauce, mixed in a rich brown sauce, the dish is certainly flavourful and can be heated up to taste (I asked for a 1, on a 1 to 5 scale). Unfortunately, the protein of this course mirrored my issue with that of my tom yum soup: the ground chicken is far too dry and no amount of liquid seemed to give back some sense of moisture. In the grand scheme of things, the simple solution would be to avoid the ground chicken if at all possible (or make sure it's bathed a bit in the beautiful broths).

Finally, we once again deviated on our dessert choices. Brianne got a vanilla cupcake decked out in a fair amount of green icing (because basil is green...?), whereas Nicole got a rather moist slice of carrot cake. I went with the gluten free flourless chocolate cake which wonderfully tasted like a thick slab of softened ganache. I must admit all three of these choices don't immediately scream "Thai cuisine," but I suppose I'll look past that and label the options under food fusion.

Overall, the food is flavourful, service is friendly, and the menus (particularly the one of specials) are well-priced. That said, whenever asked about which Thai restaurant is worth going to in Columbus, my initial response has long been something along the lines of, "Well, I don't really eat much of any Asian food, but I've been told Basil should be on that list." Now that I've tried it, I definitely have no qualms recommending it! For these and other photos, click here.

Have you visited Basil? What was your experience like? And what would you recommend I try the next time I return? Do you have any other recommendations for Thai cuisine in central Ohio? Comment below!

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