Getting into the Comfort Zone
Basil Leaf’s Vietnamese comfort food
After an afternoon of intense shopping at thrift stores, my cousin, her daughter and I were in need of some kind of food intervention that would brighten our tired and hangry moods and Basil Leaf looked up to the task. It feels like a spa when you enter. Basil Leaf has perhaps the most relaxing vibe of any restaurant in town. The walls are painted a forest green, and there are large mirrors hanging on every wall rimmed in black, making the small space seem larger.
We were seated immediately, and the waitress brought over three large glasses of water. Perusing the menu, all of the items were labeled in Vietnamese, with English descriptions underneath and numbers so that if you're like me and your Vietnamese is a little rusty, saying “I'll have the number 45 with chicken” makes the whole thing a lot less embarrassing.
To quell our empty stomachs, we ordered an appetizer of goi cuon chay, or vegetarian spring rolls. They come two per order at $4.25, and these tightly wrapped rolls of joy had a smattering of fresh vegetables, vermicelli noodles and some decently sized slices of tofu. Served with a peanut sauce, ours were destroyed almost immediately.
Speaking of the number 45 with chicken, that is exactly what I ordered. Com xao xa ot is a spicy stir fry of green bell peppers, white onions and broccoli and comes with a side of rice and a choice of protein. The little chile pepper next to its slot on the menu indicated its spiciness, and nearby a $8.75 price tag indicated its calories-to-dollar value. When it was delivered to our table, I was surprised at how large the portion was. The fresh, green garnish served as a nice palette refresher when paired with the spicy and oily entree. On a scale of 1-5, the spiciness was about a solid three–just enough to make you reach for your water, but not enough to ruin your meal.
My cousin ordered hu tieu/mi soup chay. This soup comes in three different sizes and she ordered a regular, but when the bowl was delivered to the table, I couldn't find anything regular about it. This size could easily feed two, or one determined person. At just $8, this soup was truly a bargain. The bowl was filled to the brim with fresh vegetables, noodles, broth and tofu slices. The soup was hearty and filling, but lacked the heat of my dish. Luckily, a bottle of chili sauce was conveniently located on the table. But be warned, a little goes a long way because that sauce has a kick to it!
Halfway through our meal, I ordered a Thai iced tea. The tea was served in a giant mug reminiscent of root beer floats of yore. It was a deep orange color, with a thick band of ice and cream floating in the middle. I stirred the drink, turning it to an amber color and took a sip. I was not prepared for how sweet the drink was; it tasted like candy with a strong tea aftertaste.
The next time we ventured over to Basil Leaf, it was a chilly Tuesday evening, and the restaurant was a lot less busy. This time I decided on a Vietnamese crepe, or banh xeo. You get a choice of protein and I chose to go with chicken. The menu advertises the filling as bean sprouts and white and green onions, along with your protein. If the portions before had amazed me, than I was truly stunned when this arrived to the table. The crepe, folded in half, was the size of my face. Served alongside the entree was an equally generous side salad. The filling inside the warm crepe dough tasted a little bland but came with fish sauce that could be added at will. Since that's not my style, I reached for the spicy chili sauce and doused my dish. Although very filling, I was left unimpressed with the lackluster flavor of the dish. However, the $6.25 price tag for the sheer amount of food you get made this dish more impressive.
Before we left, we decided to share a dessert. The dessert menu has a variety of items that stand out because of their uniqueness. Ever had mango sticky rice? Or three color dessert? We decided to split an order of coconut cake, but were surprised when a slice of warm, bright green cake was set in front of us, the color almost matching the hue of the walls. Its chewy texture paired well with its sweetness, its coconut flavor surfacing more as an aftertaste. Its taste was more complex than most coconut cake I’ve had, which only added to the experience. The texture and flavors were spot on.
Basil Leaf is the restaurant you go to if you are in need of comfort food that is a little out of your comfort zone. The staff is very attentive, the space is cozy and the prices can’t be beat.
1225 Eubank Blvd NE
Hours: Mon-Sat 11am-9pm Sun 11am-8pm