Basil Mediterranean Bistro.
(G-rated photo of the notorious Mata Hari…Basil Mediterranean Bistro hangs R-rated ones in their restaurant – bow chicka bow bow!)
I love Mediterranean food. One of the things I knew I’d miss when we left Pittsburgh was Aladdin’s. They, in my opinion, have the best falafel, the best kafta, the best grape leaves, the best fava bean dip, just the best anywhere.
I have written about my search for good Mediterranean in Charlottesville already. I’ve had some success. But as I sit here today, I am renewed in my enthusiasm for Charlottesville’s Mediterranean offerings. Because I have eaten at Basil Mediterranean Bistro. And oddly enough, it’s largely because of their french fries!
Husband and I took a break from the doldrums of working at the University to walk down to the Corner and once again indulge our passion for all things falafel. Because you see we had eaten at Basil once before, but because of various reasons, mainly we had forgotten how much we enjoyed it, we headed back for a second visit. There we are ruminating the night before about where to go for lunch the next day. What were we in the mood for? Sushi? Nah. Burgers. Double nah. “Hey honey, how about Basil?”
He looked confused. “Basil?”
“You know that place on The Corner with the great shawarma and falafel?”
Suddenly, knowledge of the future possibility of yummy dolmas dawned on him. “BASIL! Oh yeahhhhhhhh, that place!” followed by a happy dance which closely resembled the one Woody Harrelson did on Will and Grace when Karen Walker gave him a motorcycle. Laughingly similar. And so lunch was decided.
During our first visit, weeks before, he had ordered the lamb shawarma wrap, and I the falafel salad. We shared their version of fava bean dip. Their HUGE version of fava bean dip. This bowl could comfortably serve twenty. And while tasty, it was not the Foole M. Damas I so coveted, still, from Aladdin’s. My search continues. His shawarma was very yummy, and as I picked at my salad, which contained great little falafel balls but was constructed pricariously like the Leaning Tower of Pisa, I was jealous. “Shoulda ordered the shawarma……” I muttered, picking through my salad. Eating the yummy bits (falafel and feta) leaving the good for you stuff. But during this, our second visit, I was undeterred. Lamb shawarma would be mine. And I would save the gargantuan fava bean appetizer for the next time I had 100 people over for belly dancing and mint tea.
Basil advertises itself as a “Mediterranean Delight,” encompassing, “Lebanon, Israel, Italy, Turkey, Greece, and Morrocco all under one roof.” Normally, this would have me headed for the hills. As Tony Bourdain says, “Do one thing, and do it well.” Isn’t slashing the menu the first thing Gordon Ramsay does during his renovations on “Kitchen Nightmares” ? He cuts it down so it’s not eighty pages long. You servce ONE country’s cuisine, not six.
But somehow, Basil seems to accomplish what they set out to do. Or at least they get the Lebanese portion of it right. I’ve never ventured off the Lebanese menu because that’s what I crave so much. Guess I’ll have to venture out a third time to give a proper review. Pasta and panini instead of hummus and harissa.
The decor in Basil is something else. Bright yellow and blue walls, Turkish hanging lamps, and dark wood tables. My husband likes the decor too, although I think it’s because the far wall is covered with topless photos of Mata Hari. But in an “arty” way of course. At what point do topless honeys become quaint bathing beautys of yesteryear? 1960 Playboy bunny = topless honey. Betty Page? Still topless honey. 1905 picture of Mata Hari = exotic bathing beauty of yesteryear, suitable for posting onto restaurant walls for the decoration and enjoyment of bowtie-blue-oxford-khaki-penny-loafer-wearing-Uber-prep-college-professors. Don’t get me wrong, they’re great, oddly stimulating to the appetite. I just wonder how many of the horsie-set have stormed out in a huff because of all the “filth” projected on the walls. Makes me snicker to think on it.
As promised, the lamb shawarma was ordered – lamb marinated in fresh herbs and Lebanese spices, sauteed onions, romaine, tomatoes, hummus. It was so good I wanted to cry. I actually said out loud, “I don’t want this shawarma to end.” I kept taking littler and littler bites, willing what I had just eaten to grow back so I could eat it again. It was that good.
Husband settled on the “Istambouli” – ground beef, mint, pine nuts, tomatoes, green onions, romaine, hummus, and harissa. His wrap was good, with a GREAT heat to it. A heat with flavor included, not just something making you run for water. And just enough heat, not too much.
But the fries? The fries were a revelation. Very crispy, potatoey, with a generous helping of salt and black pepper. They were, not to overemphasize this – THE BEST FRIES I HAVE EVER HAD IN MY LIFE! They were so good that if you took a bite and closed your eyes you were either in a French bistro, enjoying a steak au poivre with frites, or you were strolling the avenues of Brussels, enjoying your frites with mayonnaise (still the best way to eat them in my oh so humble fry opinion).
I’m not sure why they serve fries with their shawarma. And frankly, I don’t care. They could serve these fries with a hummus dipping sauce for all I care. They could wrap them in grape leaves. Maybe the “under one roof” thing is a good thing after all, and the reason why my fries were so damn tasty. Why not have fries with shawarma? Are there fries in the Mediterranean? Do I care? Give me more. Now.
Needless to say, I will be going back – to review the pasta and panini. And I sure hope they serve them with fries.