Basilico Pizzeria & Family Restaurant
1570 Egypt road
Occupying the space in the Oaks Shopping Center formerly inhabited by the short-lived Vita Bella, Basilico is the latest entry into the area’s ever burgeoning (or so it seems) pizzeria/Italian eatery sweepstakes.
Since the change in ownership, the interior décor – which sports a rough and rustic, unfinished bare-bones look – has changed not at all. In fact, it strikes one as more utilitarian than ever. The menu, however, has undergone major renovations… In lieu of the former tenant’s upscale, made-from-scratch Sicilian dishes garnered from old family recipes, Basilico has opted for a more typical approach to cuisine. The bill of fare is now punctuated by parmigiana this, Marsala that, bruschetta, calamari, mussels in red or white, and a host of familiar pastas. In short, all the usual Italian/American suspects.
Nothing wrong with this approach, of course… so long as the restaurant delivers the goods. However, in my experience, both Basilico’s food and service have been hit-or-miss. “A foolish consistency,” as Ralph Waldo Emerson once noted, “is the hobgoblin of little minds.” True enough… but there is nothing foolish about restaurant consistency, which remains the sine qua non, the indispensable ingredient of an excellent eatery.
But let’s begin with the service. On our first visit, it was right on the money. Our server was certainly experienced, familiar with the menu, and also completely cognizant of her prescribed role in the ultimate culinary scheme of things. No problem.
On our second visit, however, we encountered a young woman who was, undoubtedly, sharing with us her first day (or second at the very most) as an illustrious representative of the food service industry. My dining companion and I decided to start by sharing a Caesar salad. After we ordered entrées, it suddenly dawned on her that that these came with a choice of either soup or salad. Fine. I ordered the salad; my companion, the soup. She departed… but two minutes later she was back, looking nonplussed; seems the kitchen wasn’t serving soup during the summer. Oh! Put the blame where you will; and obviously a good deal rested with a lack of communication on the part of the kitchen. On the other hand, the poor girl had not a clue.
But the best (or worst) was yet to come… We were not yet halfway through our appetizers, when up she pops with the entrées. Oops! We hastily moved our apps to the side while she proceeded to plop down (literally) the entrées. This is a common restaurant screw-up and, quite frankly, one that drives me right up a wall – because there is absolutely no good reason for it (except stupidity).
This may seem like a faux pas on the part of the kitchen, but actually it is the duty of the server to communicate the status of her/his tables. If appetizers are ordered, the server should keep a close eye on her patrons’ progress and inform the chef when it is time to start preparing the entrées so that there is no overlapping of courses. On the other hand, if no preludes are ordered, she should instruct the kitchen to start the main courses post-haste. Relatively simple; but, as noted immediately above, easily bollixed up.
The final indignity… As we were finishing up our entrées, the sweet young thing summarily dropped off the check & quickly departed, never bothering to inquire if we might, perhaps, prefer to linger over dessert and coffee. The dear girl could obviously serve as a poster child for the glaring misconception that any person with the proper number of appendages is qualified to wait tables. Hopefully, by the time of this reading, she will have found gainful employment elsewhere.
If a restaurant’s cuisine is first-rate, so-so service may often be grudgingly tolerated. Unfortunately, the food here, like the service, proved extremely fickle… and, once again, the discrepancy between the first and second visits was palpable.
On a positive note, the members of our party ordered a Margherita pizza and rigatoni Bolognese, respectively. Both were excellent choices. I. on the other hand, was quite taken with the pasta Capri (pictured), linguini tossed with chunks of tuna, diced eggplant, black olives, and capers spruced up with a zippy fra diavolo sauce. These items weren’t about to cause a major rift in the delicate fabric of the culinary universe, but they certainly qualified as thoroughly enjoyable casual Italian comfort fare.
The second sojourn, which could only be described as an unmitigated disaster, began with the salad. Since my dining companion and I had originally elected to share a Caesar salad until we were told that house greenery was included, were asked by our server if we wanted a Caesar house salad. We both indicated that we did.
Surprise… The so-called Caesar turned out to be a typical house salad (photo) lovingly garnished with a plastic packet of Ken’s Steakhouse Caesar dressing. Not that there’s anything wrong with Ken’s Steakhouse Dressings; in fact, they’re quite good as bottled dressings go. But you must admit, just slapping down a plastic packet on the side of the salad plate, leaving the diner to fend for her/himself, does lack a certain amount of savoir faire. Even restaurants considered the lowest of the low usually still have the common sense to provide ramekins on the side for salad dressings. Basilico’s plastic packet ploy definitely sends a host of negative vibes.
But the entrées were the real horror. When it comes to evaluating Neapolitan Nirvanas, I’ve always been of the opinion that eggplant parm is a good acid test. It’s a relatively simple dish, of course, but one that is easily mucked up – as it is here. For starters, there’s infinitely more breading than there is eggplant, which is a good tipoff that things are not as they should be. And the damn thing is rather difficult to cut; and that’s because the breading is slightly burned on the bottom. Couple this with the fact that the restaurant’s “homemade” tomato sauce isn’t particularly flavorful, and you have a presentation that’s generic at best.
My dining companion’s veal Marsala wasn’t much better. On the positive side, the veal was of excellent quality. Unfortunately, it was drowned beneath a sauce that was loaded with salt. So much so, in fact, that you could practically feel your blood pressure kick up a notch with every bite… and any flavor that happened to shine through was purely coincidental. And while we wouldn’t swear to it, the sodium assault was so prevalent, we harbored the sneaky suspicion this lethal concoction had been unleashed from a jar. Not the kitchen’s finest hour; and a terrible waste of good veal.
The bottom line: Since there are simply so many Italian eateries in the immediate area that serve up better, more consistent cuisine with superior service in more comfortable surroundings at comparable prices, one must logically ask: Why dine at Basilico Pizzeria & Family Restaurant? Good question.
Basilico, in my opinion, is not a “go to” restaurant; it is more like an “in a pinch” establishment, a convenient stopover for a quick meal on the way from here to there. Stick with pizza and simple pasta dishes and all will probably be well.
Once again, dear diner… it’s your call.