What to say about Basil Pizza and Wine Bar, a fabulously creative restaurant in Crown Heights? The wildly popular eatery has become a neighborhood favorite as well as a destination for those who aren’t lucky enough to live nearby for good reason – it’s fun, it’s chic, it’s happening. And the food? It just so happens to be completely and totally out of this world.
Chef Jose Soto, who has been cooking in restaurant kitchens since he was 14, has over two decades of experience under his belt. His attention to detail and his quest for culinary excellence make Basil that rare dairy restaurant that is so good that even sworn meat lovers may just find themselves coming back again and again for another Basil fix.
To say that Soto is obsessive about food is an understatement. He encourages diners not just to read the menu but to dissect it, to truly understand and appreciate every element of every dish.
“Nothing is in a dish by accident,” said Soto. “Everything is here for a reason.”
Chef Soto prides himself on creating dishes that are sophisticated and intriguing, then deconstructing them and finding ways to make them even better. While Basil’s menu is full of much-loved signature dishes, seasonal specials rotate in and out frequently, allowing Soto to take advantage of items at their most flavorful, while also giving him license to experiment to his heart’s content much to the delight of devoted Basil fans who keep heading back for more.
Perhaps you’ve heard about Basil’s namesake fries, deliciously crunchy strips of golden brown potato dusted with parmesan cheese and served with ketchup and sinfully delicious truffle mayonnaise. Featured in Leah Schapira and Victoria Dwek’s Secret Restaurant Recipes cookbook, our waiter JD warned us that the fries were addictive and he wasn’t kidding. Every time I told myself to step away from the fries and save room for what was yet to come, I found myself repeatedly sneaking just one more fry from the plate and dunking it into that irresistible truffle mayo.
Our appetizers featured plenty of bold flavors and cheeses that are typically not seen in kosher kitchens. An old world Mexican-style Caesar salad was made with whole romaine leaves generously seasoned with garlic, lemon, anchovies, and hand-grated Argentinean parmesan reggianito. A truly fabulous salad of kale, fried avocado, quinoa, grapes, and watermelon radishes in a maple black pepper vinaigrette was served with thin slices of peccorino romano, a wonderful journey into the great world of cheese, and Chef Soto shared with us his often difficult quest to procure high-quality kosher cheeses for use in his kitchen. With a strong flavor and very firm texture, the cheese was unlike any other cheese I have ever eaten and was substantial enough to be used as a cracker, making it an ideal foil for this one-of-a-kind salad.
The vegan vichyssoise was beautiful to behold but even better to eat. Soto described the soup to us as a blank canvas, waiting to be drawn on, and, garnished with chopped pistachios, orange chili oil, bowfin caviar, and fried leeks, it was, indeed, stunning. With so many varied components sharing space in the bowl, it was almost an adventure to eat the vichyssoise as each mouthful had a slightly different flavor depending on which elements of the soup made it onto the spoon.
It’s the little things that really make a difference and while Basil’s freshly baked breads were warm, delicious, and had a satisfyingly crunchy crust, Soto’s homemade avocado butter was to die for. I won’t lie to you – we knocked off the entire bread basket because the butter was so incredible that we just couldn’t stop eating it.
Thankfully, we still had an appetite for our wonderful entrees. Chef Soto’s tuna nicoise was like the funky cool cousin of the traditional dish, with immaculately seared tuna, adorable peanut potatoes, seared hard boiled eggs, garlic anchovy sauce, and truly inspired deep fried olives. Not to be outdone, the whole roasted trout stuffed with red snapper and salmon roe was a fish lover’s dream come true, and was accompanied by smoked lentils that were cooked not in water, but in wine, giving them extra depth and flavor. Sadly, there is only so much food that two people can eat, because there were so many other entrees on the menu that begged to be tasted, including assorted pastas, several types of fish, and a gorgeous selection of 13 homemade pizzas, including a Bosc pear and bleu cheese pizza with arugula that I am definitely tasting on my next trip to Basil.
You have to figure in a place like Basil the desserts are really going to rock, and they did. Popcorn ice cream, topped with caramelized popcorn, was playful, original, and excellent in its simplicity while the halva ice cream with raw tahini, date honey, and Rice Krispies was a remarkably complex and well-conceived mix of flavors and textures. Soto’s miniature sour cream cheesecake with berry sauce was cheesecake at its best and, while we certainly didn’t need to have a fourth dessert, we couldn’t leave Basil without tasting its namesake basil ice cream, which, like everything else we had, did not disappoint. Be sure to check out Basil’s enticing collection of smoothies, coffees, and fresh squeezed juices as well as its extensive menu of wines and beers.
With a private party room and seating for 120, Basil, which is open for breakfast, lunch, and supper, is the perfect place for just about every occasion. Put Basil on your must-try list, boys and girls, because this is one place you just don’t want to miss.
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Basil Pizza & Wine Bar
270 Kingston Ave, Brooklyn, NY