I had dinner with some colleagues last night at Basilico, a newish Italian restaurant half a block from Sylvester Park on Capitol Way (home of the old Sweet Oasis). Here are my impressions.
This place puts forward the strongest claim yet to being a real urban restaurant in Olympia, with quality and prices to match what you would find in a better upscale restaurant in Seattle or Portland. The menu is creative; the wine list is very strong on Italian wines. The ambience is not out-of-body but perfectly adequate all the same.
Service (on this particular night) was spotty and disorganized. Basilico has adopted the strange custom of parceling out small quantities of bread, as if it were too precious for even a slice to be wasted. A server periodically walks about the room with a large basket, putting two tiny pieces on your plate. If you are profligate enough to finish them before the basket returns (which may be as much as a quarter hour), you are out of luck. Happily, no one at my table was actually denied a refill. The server did not know that one of the wines and one of the entrees requested were unavailable, a small inconvenience. Somewhat more troubling was the delay, about 20 minutes, between the ordering of the entree and the announcement that a key ingredient had not been delivered that day. The restaurant was not particularly crowded.
On to the food. An appetizer of two hams and two cheeses was OK, not better. The gorgonzola was too sharp and had little character; what appeared to be a young asiago (dont quote me on this) was tasty. The prosciuto appeared to be standard-issue. I ordered a risotto with shallots and mushrooms encased in, well, more prosciuto. It was rather blunt in its flavors, although the texture got the firm/soggy dialectic just about right. Three of our group selected a wide-cut pasta with a sauce centered on wild boar. The hunting must not have gone well (too many lawyers, not enough boar), because there was little actual meat in any of these dishes, and even the flavor was spread rather thin. A steak-and-potatoes main course showed up at the other end of the table, but I know nothing about how successful it was. Dessert was a ricotta tort, different from the ricotta pies I know and love. In this pastry the ricotta is mostly a matrix that holds pieces of chocolate and (I think) pine nuts. It was rather sweet, but pleasant enough.
Pasta dishes here will run you $12-20; main courses $15-30. A salad will set you back $4-8 more. These are not Olympia prices; so they raise the bar to some extent. I hope to give this place another try sometime: Olympia restaurants, as my pet peeve has it, are consistently inconsistent. It is possible that I am describing an off night; I certainly hope so.