Basil Restaurant opened two weeks ago at 142 Howe St., with little fanfare — and little to recommend it.
The noodle house, which took over the space once occupied by the pan-Asian clunker East Melange, hardly offers anything new to students searching for cheap and quick eats. The menu is essentially the same as Ivy Noodle’s.
But Basil’s vibe is nicer and more relaxed than that of its Elm Street competitor. The owners of the new restaurant are determined to make it classier, and they have accomplished that Herculean task with half-ass flourish. Walls have been repainted light green, and a huge ceiling-high stone fountain has been installed on the back wall.
If having a zen-like fountain qualifies a restaurant as “Asian,” then it apparently also entitles it to compile a menu of nebulously “Asian” foods, such as the American crowd-pleasers egg rolls, chicken satay and bubble tea.
Most items we tried were passable. Garlic eggplant was lacking in garlic, but had a pleasant sweet soy sauce. Fried wontons were nicely fried, but the filling was chewy. Roast duck was moist, but the fatty skin was not crisp.
But hidden throughout the desultory array of bland soups, stir-fries and Asian kitchen staples were a few nasty disasters. Turnip cakes were mushy and fishy and were served with a pungent dipping sauce. Curry beef soup had a salty flavor and a powdery consistency — as if the chef had had too heavy a hand with the bouillon cubes — while tough beef meatballs bobbed up and down in the broth between bok choy and udon noodles like racquetballs.
Prices are on the whole inexpensive and comparable to those at Ivy Noodle — seldom does a menu item exceed $10, and most are under $6. Servers are friendlier than their heartless counterparts at Ivy, but they lack their rivals’ brusque efficiency.
Unfortunately, Basil’s biggest advantage over Ivy Noodle — its cool and clean ambience — seems entirely inappropriate for the restaurant. A classy ambience is nothing without food to match. After all, you are eating deep-fried wontons.
Stick to Ivy Noodle, if you must.