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Wichita Trip: Sweet Basil, The Olive Tree

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Wichita Trip: Sweet Basil, The Olive Tree

SmallCap | May 16, 2005 07:14 PM

I have not made the trip to Wichita in quite a while but spent a few days last week eating my way through town, so I thought I'd share a few updates.

Olive Tree Bistro continues to be good (no brainer, there!). I would consider it the most upscale place in Wichita, if not in atmosphere (Cibola ranks a close second on that one) then definitely in cuisine. They were serving mezzes (Mediterranean tapas) before tapas became all the rage, & they now have more of a Spanish influence than I recall years ago... prices are still, well, pricey. The wine list is pricey but large enough to find something reasonable, assuming you know how to look. Overall, if I were on an expense account or celebrating a special occasion, I'd end up here more times than not.

My other experience was not quite so positive, although that may be a preference issue -- Sweet Basil, which I understand to be somewhat of a Wichita institution. It felt that way, & not necessarily in a good way -- rather than just playing it straight as a "southern Italian" old-world type place (which it very much is, it just needed the red & white checked tablecloths!), they seem to be trying to pull off a more overall "fine dining" establishment & a romantic atmosphere. Neither of which quite work... it came off, instead, as a bit dingy & a little chintzy. Service was relatively unpolished. Food-wise -- our appetizers were all breaded & fried in exactly the same way, the wine list looked interesting but was actually out-of-stock for most bottles we chose, & the entrees were decent but nothing that sets Sweet Basil apart from anywhere else. More quantity than quality emphasis, here. Overall, a mediocre experience, although keep in mind I'm not a huge southern Italian fan -- quite frankly, their advertising is a bit misleading in that respect.

One parting word: I cannot say enough good things about the little Mediterranean kabob-style cafe on 21st Street that was once called Cafe Mediterranean... it's changed names since I was last there, & I can't recall the new name! Actually, it seemed to be the same place -- just with a nicer interior (i.e., suitable for dinner instead of just lunch) & an expanded menu. I'd already been in love with several of their chicken salads, & I tried their Lebanese beef kabobs the other day, which I now equally adore... their tabbouleh is good, their hummus is excellent... every dish containing lamb I've tried has been terrific. Service is quick & efficient. Their carryout lunch business looked brisk, & no wonder, with food/value/quantity as good as this!

That's my Wichita recap.

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