’Tis the season(ing)

Troy’s Basil’s on Market

By Paula Johnson

Photo: The Nutty Craisin Salad at Basil’s On Market in Troy

Basil: from the Greek basileus, meaning king. It’s referred to by many chefs as the king of herbs, and Chef Todd Uhlir’s featuring of basil in many of his dishes speaks to his fondness for it. Open less than a year, Basil’s On Market’s apparent popularity speaks to the Dayton restaurant patrons’ agreement with the chef.

PIP (Palate In Progress) and I ventured north to the festive hamlet of Troy on a Saturday, arriving at 6 p.m. to find the parking lot behind Basil’s on Market already filled. (We found alternate parking easily across the street). As the parking lot suggested, the restaurant was bustling. The vibe is upscale casual with exposed brick, subdued lighting, interesting music and tasteful table appointments. Our hostess led us through the long narrow space past a hopping, football-watching bar to the main dining area where a few tables were still vacant.

We scored the perfect seating for observation, as our table had clear view of the open kitchen. Being able to watch how a restaurant functions is telling. The kitchen was having fun. The action was brisk but relaxed, staff interactions, jovial. The line was organized and efficient – no stress on the faces of the wait staff or line cooks. A good sign.

Service with a smile

Our bubbly server Amy had twinkly eyes and an engaging manner. She was sassy and likable, reflecting the restaurant’s relaxed and energetic atmosphere. The other servers I observed were enthusiastic in describing to surrounding tables the menu items and specials (we’ve all had servers who phone it in and do little to hide their I’d-rather-be-anywhere-but-here attitudes) – another good sign.

We started with the Rosie’s Meatballs appetizer ($6.50), billed as just like Chef Todd grew up on. Three tender meatballs were enrobed in a fresh tasting sauce: tomatoey, assertively peppery with a sharp tang of cheese. Next came the Seared Ahi Tuna ($7.50). The just barely seared sashimi tuna came nestled beside a fresh basil tomato relish and accented with a horseradishy cream sauce. It was an Italian riff on a preparation that is usually done with Asian flavorings, and it was delicious.

If I was concerned that Chef Uhlir was adding basil indiscriminately, I needn’t have been. Though it’s in a lot of dishes, he uses it subtly and only when it makes sense. As a matter of fact, the Lobster Bisque ($4 cup) was finished with what was described as a scallion basil crème fraiche. However, there was only a trace of the finishing topping, and I couldn’t detect any basil at all. The soup itself was hearty, velvety and rustic. The first spoonful revealed a nice depth of flavor from sherry and the rich brown roasted flavor of lobster shells.

PIP opted for The Nutty Craisin Salad ($11 with shrimp, $10 with chicken). The salad’s tangy raspberry vinaigrette was judiciously sprinkled over the goat cheese, pecan, craisin and mandarin orange toppings. The dressing was sweet but not overly so, and with four nicely grilled large shrimp, this salad could practically be an entree itself. (It’s also priced about the same as a salad at many major chain restaurants, as are a lot of offerings at Basil’s).

The meatballs were served with a hunk of garlic bread and PIP’s salad came with bread as well. This was important, because the breadbasket is an elective at Basil’s, and not served automatically. It’s an optional appetizer at $4, served with basil butter. We didn’t miss having it on the table to start. Bread is one of those things I am guilty of overeating simply because it’s there, so I agree with Basil’s decision to encourage more thoughtful eating.

Both PIP and I decided to order beef for our entrees. Basil’s offers five beef dishes on their regular menu, so it seems the chef likes preparing it. PIP’s cajun blackened bone-in rib eye ($24) was a special that evening. I went with the Braised Short Ribs ($18.50). Other entrees range from a pasta dish and vegetarian plate (each $12) to fish and chicken offerings, mostly priced between $14 and $17. A selection of pizzas begins at $12. Basil’s also offers the option of a half order on some of their menu items, a great idea for those wanting to try a variety of dishes instead of filling up on one. I noted several really tasty sounding sandwiches on the lunch menu, and I look forward to a return trip to try them out.

I’ll drink to that

Since I was having beef, I chose a well-priced Banfi Centine red blend at $7. The drink menu included some fun sounding cocktails under the Basil’s Concoctions section. Particularly tempting was the French Pear Martini, made with St. Germaine, pear vodka and champagne. For beer lovers the list is divided into nine Conventional offerings, and eighteen Exceptional craft beers, as well as beer flights.

What’s at steak?

Robust beef flavors were the order of the evening. My short rib meat was meltingly good, topped with crisp onion straws, and resting on a bed of risotto. The risotto had a slight bite of nutty crunch to it, and was creamy, rich and savory. Flanking the meat were roasted beets dusted with herbs, perfect little sweet nuggets to foil the other flavors. Just the food you want to be eating on a chilly winter evening.

PIP felt the same way about his rib eye. Plate sized and spicy, it was done perfectly with a charred crust outside and a pink and juicy interior. Accompanying it were mashed potatoes and a colorful sauté of zucchini, yellow squash and red pepper. As we stole bits from one another’s plates it was hard to pick a favorite.

Going for the gold

If this meal were an Olympic gymnastics event, the desserts would be where Basil’s didn’t quite stick the dismount. Up until this point their routine had been technically and artistically solid, but the landing was a little shakey. There were four dessert options: a snickers pie, a chocolate peanut butter pie, a cheesecake and a pumpkin pie. While each of these desserts is fine, and the cheesecake ($6.95) and PIP’s peanut butter concoction ($6.95) were each solid, there just wasn’t enough variety in the too-similar offerings. And all of these standards are found just about everywhere. I think Basil’s is better than standard in the rest of their menu and execution. I would like to see them step out a little more on the dessert front and nail the dismount. If they do, I’m certain even the surly Russian judge will award them high marks. With well-priced, well-prepared food in an attractive setting with good service, Basil’s On Market deserves a place on the podium.

Basil’s On Market is located at 18 N. Market St. in Troy. For more information, please call 937.875.2068 or visit basilsonmarket.com.

Reach DCP freelance writer Paula Johnson at PaulaJohnson@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Dayton City Paper Dining Critic Paula Johnson would like every meal to start with a champagne cocktail and end with chocolate soufflé. As long as there’s a greasy burger and fries somewhere in the middle. Talk food with Paula at PaulaJohnson@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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