Basil n’ Spice offers light, flavorful Thai food
By Bernie Whitmore
Each year, I eagerly anticipate the Taste of Shrewsbury Street as an opportunity to investigate the newer restaurants and to touch base with my favorites. This year’s surprise was Basil n’ Spice for its fresh appetizers and cooling beverages. Right then, I knew I had to make a return visit.
Finding it could be a bit tricky; it’s in the space previously occupied by Surya, so the restaurant is a parking lot removed from the Street, between Dunkin’ Donuts and Funky Murphy’s. Inside, the owners have done the room over in simple, neat décor, making it feel light and clean.
The soundtrack is an engaging range of indie pop-folk, with an occasional alt-rock gem. Have your Shazam app at the ready; you’ll probably hear something new you want to tag. Basil n’ Spice’s serving staff numbers just a few, but the servers graciously extend themselves to foster a friendly experience.
Thai cuisine has always impressed me with its rich layering of flavors. Yet, its ingredients are vital in nutrients and fresh flavors. Thai menus are usually extensive affairs that you might never fully explore. Basil n’ Spice is no exception, so I don’t even attempt to be comprehensive. This night, we started with soup.
I ordered Tom Kha, creamy coconut milk broth steeped in Thai ginger, lime, scallion, cilantro and, as I requested, the rich background flavor of shrimp. Each spoonful yielded slices of firm, white mushrooms and chopped tomato. Two large, juicy shrimp made this an ideal appetizer.
Tom Yum, my friend’s soup choice, was just as pleasing. At first glance, the broth’s deep red color might lead one to suspect it’s tomato-based. However, the rich heat of chili pepper, lemongrass and cilantro indicate otherwise – it contained chunks of tomato, mushroom slices and more of those tasty shrimp. As we head into the cooler months, a bowl of Tom Yum will make a great meal!
Amongst the signature entrees was one that caught my attention – Wild Boar Basil. On reading the description, it became evident that the dish was really just farmyard pork, not one of those wild beasts you try to avoid out in nature. But the dish included a number of ingredients that attracted me, so I ordered it.
In addition to its other features, Thai cuisine is sumptuous in appearance. Wild Boar Basil was no exception. It contained strips of thin-sliced pork loin, puffy chunks of soft eggplant, baby corn, mushroom and bamboo slices and small bits of broccoli. The sauce was rich and ginger-laden, with fragrant leaves of basil. Catching me unaware, stems of fresh green peppercorns were scattered throughout and gave the dish a lick of rich, spicy heat.
More in character with my impression of Thai cuisine was my friend’s entrée of Choo Chee Shrimp. Choo Chee is a mild curry that imparted a hint of exotic flavor and a nice level of heat to the dish with just a touch of sweet. Faultlessly generous, Basil n’ Spice packs its shrimp dishes with heaping helpings of the freshest and tastiest of shrimp – my friend at first reported eight but kept revising the count upward. They were joined by fresh peapods, red and green bell pepper strips, pineapple chunks and baby corn.
On a previous visit to Basil n’ Spice, I ordered Chaingmai Noodle, a big bowlful of steamed yellow noodles with cilantro in a mild curry broth. It also contained a trove of those tasty shrimp. Everything about it tasted and “felt” so wonderful, I’d go back tonight for another bowl!
This evening’s meal was capped off with the Sticky Rice with Pumpkin Custard dessert. Elegantly garnished with orange and apple slices, the dish was dabbed with coins of chocolate sauce. Pumpkin Custard? Deconstructed, it seemed like strips of steamed pumpkin flesh blended into soft creamy custard. Very strange, but also very tasty.
There was a time when Shrewsbury Street was known exclusively for Italian cuisine. That belief hid its true charm. What makes the Street so popular is its confluence of independently owned and managed restaurants that are free from all the predictability that comes with the big franchises. As time passes, our choices become more diverse.
Straight in line with that tradition, Basil n’ Spice offers some of the friendliest, tastiest and most affordable dining in town.
Basil n’ Spice
299 Shrewsbury St., Worcester