Every time I go to this place, I fear that it's finally given in and that I'll end up with a overly-Americanized and disappointing Thai meal. But thankfully, as on this past Saturday night, I always walk away satisfied.
Basil Thai is nestled between the warehouses and body shops on Folsom Street near 7th. The look and feel of this place echoes the Slanted Door, Butterfly, Tamarine, Three Seasons, and the other upscale Southeast Asian restaurants that are so popular in the bay are these days: Low and flattering lighting, wicker chairs, white tablecloths with flickering tea candles, a long bar stretching through half the restaurant, a wall made of ice block, bamboo growing out of planters swimming with coy, artsy looking waiters dressed all in black, and patrons apparently having a bite before hitting the nearby SOMA clubs.
The food here is elevated to match the decor by being neatly prepared and beautifully presented. But fortunately, the kitchen mostly delivers honest Thai flavors and doesn't pull punches with the heat.
This weekend we started with the corn fritters (which has always been my favorite dish) and green papaya salad. The fritters are now "corn and bean curd" fritters, which means less corn and the addition of tofu. I preferred the previous version better, but this was also delicous. Served with a vinegary cucumber salad. The papaya salad had been disappointing previously, but this time it was excellent. Fresh, flavorful shreds of green papaya were dressed in a tart and rather hot (by my standards, which is saying a lot) dressing.
For entrees we had the tamarind prawns, kanom pak-gard (turnip cake), basil's eggplant, and kang ped (duck with red curry). The tamarind prawns was the only dish I disliked due to its sticky sweet sauce, though the prawns were well cooked and it came with a generous amount of fiery dried red chile pods. The turnip cake was nearly identical to the same dish (a.k.a. hawker carrot cake) I've had at Banana House, except that the turnip cakes did not have meat in them. Cubes of cake, apparently deep fried, were tossed with eggs, bean sprouts, and fish sauce. Basil's eggplant was essentially a green curry with eggplant and other vegetables. It was enjoyable, but didn't have either the richness of Angkor Borei's green curry nor the interesting presentation (slices of eggplant formed into boats with the other ingredients stuffed inside) of the other eggplant dish on the menu: pak rad kang. The duck curry is also a favorite dish and this was good as always. The red curry, made a bit creamy by a dash of coconut milk, exhibited a very deep, satisfying spiciness. The duck, though cooked all the way through, was still tender and each piece still had a thick layer of delicious skin and fat attached. Has historically been served in a clay pot, but on this night it arrived in a large, deep bowl.
Prices here aren't cheap, but at about $6 per appetizer and $10 per entree, each with rather large portions, you can have a meal here for far less than the similar restaurants listed above.
I tried to match the meal with a Cline Zinfandel but it just did not work. Stick with the Trimbach Gewurtz, Hefewiezen, or house cocktail instead. $10 corkage.