Venue Review: Basil Thai Cuisine
The Charlotte Observer
210 N. Church St.
The brothers Eang opened their first restaurant in Charleston in 2002, survivors of a harrowing escape from Cambodia and architects of an internationally flavored success story. When they opened the second Basil in uptown Charlotte this spring, it seemed to run smooth as silk from the start.
And what a welcome addition it is: confident, flavorful execution of one of the world's more entertaining cuisines, in a stylish setting, with servers who exude solicitousness.
The well-edited menu hits all the high notes and makes a few additions for the nervous to chef Suntorn Cherdchoongarm's traditional fare. These include a won ton soup (served, as are all soups, for two, in a ring device that's showy and warming), several fried rice options and the dubbing of vegetable dishes “delights.”
But Thai aficionados will delight in the spicy green papaya salad called som tum; grilled New York strip in Basil's version of the salad yum neua; gorgeous spring rolls made with shrimp and basil; a mouthwateringly luxuriant duck in red curry sauce; and, of course, the nation's most famous dish: pad thai, rice noodles curled around chunks of chicken and shrimp and showing a sweeter edge than most.
There is three-flavor fish, served whole, and Volcano Shrimp (grilled jumbo shellfish with napa cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower), and a pairing of fried tilapia and shrimp with vegetables and ginger sauce, all house specialties.
Entrees are a mix-and-match affair, as is customary, with the usual options: beef, chicken, pork, tofu and shrimp, in flavor combos such as pad prik (with the gingery Prik King curry sauce that's actually flavored with the similar galangal, not ginger) or black-pepper garlic or basil with Thai chili sauce, plus green, red and masaman curries.
Asterisks denote spicy fare, and Basil is not screwing around with punctuation: If dishes have asterisks, they've got some heat. Diners will figure how simpatico they are with the kitchen's adjectives (mild, medium, hot and Thai hot) over time – and servers are trained to help you – but know that Basil chefs bring it on more enthusiastically than most. Another welcome feature, in my book.
So is dessert, which includes simple and extraordinary sticky rice with fresh mango, and fried green tea ice cream (no, really).
The dining area has plenty of leather seating to sink into, and though the marble “chef's counters” may be a little close-quartered, it can be instructional, too. Next time I do spring rolls with rice paper, I'll blot them before rolling; one woman in the kitchen did practically nothing else all night.
A brilliant red curtain draws your eye to one end of the dining room, past the large street-view windows, while feathery-edged drum lights help you appreciate the room's height. The room can be noisy, so if you're sensitive, try for banquette seats, from which you can at least whisper to one in your party.
Having launched Basil here with chefs who trained with Cherdchoongarm in Charleston, Chai Eang (say “chie ing”) will stay, while Henry Eang will return to Charleston.
“I'm starting to grow roots here,” says Chai, who's had his eye on Charlotte for years. “Johnson & Wales (culinary program) is going to change the culinary scene, and I want to be ahead of the curve. We (Charlotte) have got some great restaurants already, like Barrington's, but it's still very corporate and chain driven in most concepts and approach.”
Basil isn't. Enjoy.