Basil Asian Bistro Review: Asian fusion done right

Jessica Holbrook taste-tests the Basil special sushi roll, Basil rolls, crab Rangoon, pad thai, Dragon and Phoenix, wonton soup and crispy pineapple chicken at Basil Asian Bistro.

Jessica Holbrook taste-tests the Basil special sushi roll, Basil rolls, crab Rangoon, pad thai, Dragon and Phoenix, wonton soup and crispy pineapple chicken at Basil Asian Bistro.

There’s no denying Basil Asian Bistro is a Stark County favorite. Anytime I mentioned I was planning to try the downtown Canton restaurant, I was met with rave reviews and recommendations of what to order. People love it.

I can see why. The Asian fusion eatery does a lot of things right. We tried some truly excellent dishes, and I’m eager to try more from the eclectic menu. But after all that hype, parts of our experience just left me a little underwhelmed.

Basil, at 585 Market Avenue N, is just down the street from the About offices, and I started the review process by grabbing carryout on a busy Wednesday afternoon.

I’ll definitely be back. Basil’s lunch portions are generous—I had enough leftover for lunch the next day—and reasonably priced. I ordered Crispy Pineapple Chicken ($8.50 for lunch/$13 for dinner) with a side of white rice. The chicken, which is lightly battered and flash-fried, lives up to its name with a light, crunchy texture that isn’t greasy. The chicken is tossed in a sweet glaze with pineapples, onions and red peppers. The mixture is almost too sugary, but the vegetables and rice keep it grounded.

I’m less enthusiastic about the wonton soup ($4), described as shrimp and pork dumplings with scallions and Chinese Napa cabbage in chicken broth. The dumplings are flavorful and I’d absolutely order them as an appetizer (Thai Dumplings $7), but the soup itself tasted overwhelmingly like onions, and the cabbage didn’t maintain its crunch.

Basil’s menu divides its entrees into several categories—noodles, fried rice, chef specialties, Thai and classic dishes—and offers lunch portions ($7.50 to $9) in several of them.

My husband, Dave, and I stopped by for dinner on a Thursday evening. We hadn’t made reservations so I was anticipating a bit of a wait, but the hostess quickly sat us a table by the window. The restaurant was moderately busy, so maybe that’s why it took about 10 minutes for anyone to acknowledge us. When our waitress did come by, she just asked us what we wanted to order without giving us a chance to order drinks (Basil has an inventive looking cocktail menu) or explaining the delay.

The wait did give us time to appreciate Basil’s unique atmosphere. The restaurant is split into a bar and dining room, which combines exposed brick walls, beautiful metal-covered ceiling and interesting artwork in a way that feels funky and romantic at the same time. The restaurant can get loud, but it’s not overpowering.

It also gave us time to narrow down our choices. On top of its extensive offerings of Pan Asian entrees, appetizers and salads, Basil has plenty of sushi, including several house rolls.

We opted for the Basil Special Roll ($14) which features tuna, salmon, yellowtail, scallions and sprouts drizzled with a spicy mayo sauce. The ingredients pair well together, and the scallions and sprouts add a nice texture. The mayo has a nice kick, but it’s not overly spicy and it doesn’t overpower the more subtle ingredients.

We also started the meal with Crab Rangoon ($4) and Basil Rolls ($7).

The Crab Rangoon—four pieces of fried wonton stuffed with crab, scallions and cream cheese—wasn’t overly greasy and had a nice crunch that complemented the creamy filling. It came with a thick, sweet sauce that, while tasty, easily overwhelmed the other flavors.

Dave and I both loved The Basil Rolls ($7), two generously-sized rolls (cut in half) of shrimp, lettuce, onion and basil wrapped in thin rice paper and served with a Thai chili sauce. The rolls are light, crunchy and refreshing. I’ve had similar rolls at other restaurants, but the large size and addition of fresh basil puts these ahead of the pack. My only critique is that our shrimp were unevenly distributed, so one piece had none.

I ordered the Dragon and Phoenix ($17), which features chicken, shrimp, baby corn, carrots, mushrooms, water chestnuts and pea pods stir-fried in a Cantonese white wine sauce. I loved the variety of colorful veggies, which had just the right amount of crunch. The shrimp also was cooked perfectly and was my favorite part of the dish. I was disappointed by the white wine sauce, which heavily coated the ingredients. It just didn’t pack enough flavor. I had to add a glug of soy sauce to taste much of anything.

Dave picked the Pad Thai ($14 at dinner/$9 at lunch). I coveted his excellent choice and kept stealing bites. The dish features perfectly cooked rice noodles stir-fried with eggs, green onion, shrimp and chicken. It’s topped with ground peanuts and comes with bean sprouts and slices of lime on the side. It was delicious with an addicting blend of sweet, sour and spice. I’d happily order it next time.

Though we got off to a less-than-ideal start, our waitress was otherwise attentive, friendly and quickly packed up our many leftovers.

Overall, Basil is a solid choice for lunch, date night or an outing with friends. Some items are hit or miss, but when Basil gets it right, it hits it out of the park.