Restaurant Review: Basil Thai, Brewery District Edition
The space inside 460 South Front feels familiar. It is familiar. It’s been the recent home of Front Street Bar & Grill and a Frezno revival. Walkable and urban: it seems like the address should be more successful than it has been for restaurants.
Now the space hosts a Thai joint. Not just any Thai joint, though. It’s Basil Thai – a restaurant formula that has been successful in the Short North since 2009.
Inside the door, two things demand attention immediately – neither involve ethnic accents. With its dark, woodsy interior, the spot could still serve anything as a bar and grill. Notable Thing One is the floor: it’s wood, artfully cut, with unusual end-chunks installed like bricks. Thing Two is the music: it’s reminiscent of the soundtrack from an 80s John Hughes WannaBe movie. If you spend lots of table time playing with your phone, that’s an implicit commitment to listening to insipid stuff.
So, share a table with people who like to talk.
The menu is expansive, but not expensive. Most items are under $15.
The Vegetable Egg Rolls ($6.50) are an approachable way to kick things off: thin, crunchy, deep fried wraps are filled with a mild mix of vermicelli, carrot and cabbage. Not bad by themselves; the crisp shells give way to the soft contents inside, so the rolls are plenty entertaining in the texture department. There’s a sweet and sour dipping sauce for diners who prefer a busier palate experience.
Spicier is the Tom Yum ($8), it’s a soup that’s thick with mushrooms and vegetables (a chicken version is also available). With its lime and cilantro accents, it’s light enough for spring dining. Although, it’s got the sort of heat that builds with every slurp.
Something like the Grilled Vegetable Salad ($9.95) demonstrates what Basil Thai does exceptionally well: plant foods. Cubes of sweet potato and plump, irresistibly tender chunks of tofu dance around a mixture that also features onions, broccoli, shredded carrots, bok choy and peanuts. It’s balanced, and the natural vegetable flavors take the lead with a mild heat from the sauce.
In the more traditional Thai curry department, the Red Curry ($13) is a good, classic choice. Paired with beef (or chicken), peppers and basil, it’s got depth from coconut milk spiked with an intense heat.
For more stodgy types, there’s a standby on the lines of Chicken Cashew ($13). Like the other items on the menu, the dish is a nicely balanced mix of chicken, cashews and a few peppers in a brown sauce that ties it together with its brine.
The entree dishes come with rice… or brown rice with a $1 up-charge.
The table was unanimous in its appreciation of Basil’s fresh ingredients and flavors. There was, however, some controversy over flavor issues. It sometimes seems like an element is missing — something that makes the dining experience two dimensional, when it could be three-dimensional. Big picture is this: the place seems like a good spot to load up on vegetables. It feels sorta healthy.
You can find Basil Thai at the aforementioned 460 South Front Street.
For more information, visit www.basilshortnorth.com.
All photos by Walker Evans.