Saturday, November 04, 2006

Review: Thai Basil

We'd driven my Thai Basil in the restaurant cluster next to Park Meadows Mall in Lone Tree several times, always saying we had to try it out in our fruitless search to find decent Thai food in Colorado. (Sadly, the only decent place I've found to date went under. It's sort of the story of good food around here.) During our convention in Denver we had a free night for dinner, and decided to go give it a try.

It was Saturday night, so we had a short wait. On the way in, you can't miss the two intricately carved wooden benches on either side of the lobby. Not only are the comfortable to sit on, they are smooth and interesting to touch. I've certainly waited in less comfortable spaces. Our table was right up against another one of the many carvings around the room, a large Buddha. We rubbed his belly for good luck. It couldn't hurt.

To be fair, Thai Basil doesn't pretend to be a Thai restaurant; it bills itself as Asian fusion. There are plenty of Thai dishes, but there are also Japanese sushi and traditional Chinese dishes.

As I've mentioned before, my acid test of a Thai restaurant is their Tom Kha Gai, coconut chicken soup. Thai Basil doesn't call theirs Tom Kha Gai, but it's similar enough that we both ordered bowls. The broth was flavorful and smooth, the chicken almost impossibly tender. However the mushrooms were almost raw and there were not the bunches of inedibles that give the soup its depth of flavor.

I ordered the chicken with Thai basil, my husband ordered the Panang beef. (I don't remember exactly what my dish was called as the restaurant does not seem to have a website.) As usual in the Chinese and Thai restaurants we've gone to before, we expected to share. I hope it's not a new trend, but each of our dishes was served individually, with rice on the plate, as one might expect with a lunch special. The plate itself was one of the more visually beautiful I've ever seen at a restaurant, a square of glass with metallics sandwiched underneath.

The Panang beef was in a separate clay pot with a sterno burner underneath - which had not been lit. A bit of carelessness, but if you're going to use a burner, you might as well light it.

Portions were generous and flavors were typically Thai, but they simply weren't spicy enough. I should have known this was the case when not only did our server not ask us how spicy we wanted our food, but there was also a bottle of Sriracha on the table.

While the meal was reasonably good and reasonably priced, it was ultimately another disappointment. I'm still looking for a good Thai restaurant that reliably produces the flavors and heat that I'm grew so addicted to in California. I would eat at Thai Basil again, but I won't make a special trip there.

(Date of visit: October 28, 2006)

Review: McCormick & Schmicks

McCormick and Schmicks was my backup restaurant during my trip to California in September. I was staying right by one, so if I couldn't find anywhere else I really wanted to eat, I was pretty certain I could find a halfway decent meal there. It wasn't a first tier choice because the chain has an outpost in Denver, and I figured I would eventually have a chance to try them out there.

The chance came sooner rather than later, as the Denver location turned out to be about a block from the hotel we were staying at for a convention. I figured it was fate, so we dropped by a bit on the later side Friday night.

McCormick and Schmicks specializes in seafood, and their one page novel of a menu reflects that. The fresh selections are listed at the top; all can be prepared fairly simply. But many of them also feature in the long list of dishes listed below. This is why the website only provides sample menus; what's available depends on what they have fresh.

It took me a long time to read over the menu, even when I was only going into the details of the dishes that sounded interesting. Fortunately they serve bread in the meantime, a half loaf of sourdough each time. I miss sourdough bread; it's othe standard restaurant bread in the San Francisco Bay Area, but out here it's hard to find.

We ordered an appetizer listed as "Kobe Beef Potstickers" right away. I somehow doubt it was Kobe beef, unless it was made up from trimmings from other pieces served elsewhere on the menu (if I read the non-seafood part of the menu, I don't remember it). But the potstickers were good, nice and crisp, even if they were a bit pricey at about $11.00 for five.

I ended up ordering the Cashew Crusted Tilapia from San Jose, Costa Rica, with hot rum butter. The menu didn't mention it, but it was also served with asparagus and rice. My first impression was "this portion is HUGE", and it was - at least twice the size I expected. It was cooked to well done - not overcooked, but cooked slightly further than is the fashion with fish these days. I appreciated that, even if others would consider it a negative, because I like my fish cooked all the way through.

The cashew crust was plentiful and crisp, the hot rum butter just slightly sweet, working well with the nuts. It wasn't an extraordinary dish, but it was good.

My husband ordered the etouffee, another generous portion tasting throughout of the andouille sausage. The shrimp were small but plentiful, as was the chicken. It came served with rice.

The dessert tray was no exception when it came to portion size - we'd each thought about ordering our own dessert until we saw them and realized neither of us had any chance against them. We decided on the chocolate bag filled with white chocolate mousse and berries.

The chocolate in the bag was surprisingly good, not the flavorless, waxy stuff many chocolate sculptures are made of. I'm not a huge fan of white chocolate mousse because most renditions don't taste like much; this was an exception, absolutely delicious. Even the blackberries and raspberries were tender and sweet instead of the hard sourballs most are.

Service was slow and not particularly on the ball. While our server kept our water glasses full, we had the distinct impression she wasn't all that interested in our table. This was borne out when the desserts were described to the next table; we heard about several specials that our server never mentioned.

Overall, McCormick and Schmicks made a reasonably positive impression on me. I enjoyed my meal and would not be averse to dining there again, but I don't think I'd make a special trip to Denver just to eat there.

(Date of visit: October 27, 2006)