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Venue Review: Basil Thai Cuisine

Thai flavor explodes uptown
Basil Thai Cuisine
By "Helen Schwab"
The Charlotte Observer

210 N. Church St.

More info about restaurant

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.

Reviews & Comments
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May 29, 2009 - The Charlotte Observer - Helen Schwab

Basil soars in second Carolinas location with first-rate cuisine, an elegant setting and helpful servers.

(Full review)
Jun 29, 2010 - cltprogrammer
good, but not so flavorful

I ate at Basil for the first time in mid June 2010. My previous experience with Thai food was Bangkok Ocha and Siam Garden, both of which I liked, and rate much better than Basil.

Basil is middle of the road in taste (and I don't go for the really hot/spicy versions), apparently trying to appeal to a larger crowd. The place was busy for dinner. While the food was good, it was bland, and I like a more complex, bold flavoring.

Jun 02, 2009 - ummyfood
ramen noodles

After checking out some of the reviews I decided to try Basil's for myself. Unfortunately there's not many good things I can say about Basil's. The location isn't bad. The service was mediocre, the food was over priced,over cooked and tasted like it came from the frozen department of your local grocery store. I was not impressed at all.

Jun 02, 2009 - oregonfoodie
Lets get real. Basil's is not good!

For any one who appreciates Thai food, Basil's will only disappoint you. The egg rolls are the quality of what you would find in your grocers freezer. Our other appetizer that is typically served with fresh bib lettuce in more discerning establishments was served near cold and tasteless thin strips of iceberg lettuce. Also the signature Thai dish Pad Thai was served as lifeless as a bowl of Top Ramen. Thai food is known for blend aromatic herbs and savory robust sauces but Basil’s seem to serve a Red Lobster version of Thai food that falls well short of a good dining experience. That being said I can usually appreciates any meal that is put in front of me but the portions are very small and not worth the price. Basil’s has a great location, a great look and a competent but not seasoned service staff. This may be a good overpriced date night experience for a Thai first timer but if you already like good Thai food, this is not the place.

May 31, 2009 - awfoodman
Excellent food

Having eaten here several times it it clear that Basil has the finest asian food in Charlotte. Comparing price based upon the myriad chinese buffets and strip center restaurants is like saying the steak at Morton's is overpriced compaired to steak at the Waffle House. They may both be steak, but they are two different products. This is fine asian dining, and you should go here if you are looking for that quality. If you want to fill up on rice go to an all you can eat chinese buffet.

(no rating) May 29, 2009 - hgl
Valid Points

Helen...any comments on the pricing? This building has prime lunch traffic, yet there's no lunch entree for less than $9.95...noodles/rice are pretty inexpensive from a cost perspective...these guys will suffer from the one and done syndrome as many of the other posters predict.

(no rating) May 29, 2009 - DaddyGee
Doesn't Look So Over-Priced For Upscale Thai

Looked at the menu on their website, and am looking forward to trying this place.

May 29, 2009 - pensionplant
Overpriced Thai Food

I went once for lunch and the food was good and the wait staff friendly, but the prices are much too high. Like Greenman said, I won't be around for a second try to see if they lowered prices.

May 29, 2009 - jlequire
A Charleston classic, awesome in Charlotte

My wife and I were Basil fanatics when we lived in Charleston. Although everything on the menu is good, we're partial to Pad Thai and Green Curry, not to mention their delicious fried ice cream for desert.

This particular location boasts a more sophisiticated, modern, and luxurious decor than the one in Charleston (although that is not too shabby either). The prices are high compared to fast food (referring to the review below) but are on par and below a lot of the other places to eat downtown. As a matter of fact, they're only $1-$5 more expensive per plate than Thai Taste (in Dilworth) and other Thai restaurants we enjoy in Charlotte.

Entrees are priced anywhere between $12-$25 depending upon what you're in the mood for. Every bit of it is completely worth it. This is the best Thai food we (my wife and I) have found in the US.

May 29, 2009 - Greenman
Great taste - over priced

I have enjoyed different dishes on their menu four times. I think their food is excellent, but it is a tad over priced. I have several friends who dine-out a lot, and they shared the same opinion. It is worth the extra couple dollars, but not the extra $5 or $6.

I wish them luck. My prediction is that after the "shine" rubs off, Basil will have to reconsider their pricing structure. Like a lot of restaurants find out, you don't get those customers back a second time to see you lowered your prices.

May 29, 2009 - shairfield
explodes with flavor!!

Basil has a delighful menu and exceptional service. I have referred many friends and they rave about it!

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