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Needham lunch, possibly dinner -- *Sweet Basil* review

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Needham lunch, possibly dinner -- *Sweet Basil* review

William Lee | Jan 25, 2005 06:38 PM

A short preface/intro:

I am 27, lived in Boston/Fenway for 2.5 years, and am a surgery resident working during the month of January at Glover hospital in Needham. As a result I've been looking for local places to eat, since I am home call (25 minute drive from Fenway) the entire month. Sometimes it is more convenient for me to grab a bite locally and wait for labs or CAT scans than to go home and potentially have to drive all the way back in.

In any case, I'd like to post a review, especially since there was a recent thread regarding lunch places in the Needham/Newton area.


_Sweet Basil_
942 Great Plain Avenue
Needham, MA
781.444.9600

Before proceeding, realize I have eaten there only twice, both for lunch.

General: The menu is vaguely new-Italian in theme, with a daily risotto special, many salads, seafood and pastas featured, and a few sandwiches/panini for lunch only. The dinner menu has heavier fare listed (steak/chicken/veal/lamb). The two most adventurous selections are: 1) warm spinach salad with sauteed sea scallops, apricots and red wine vinaigrette, 2) gnocchi with seasonal vegetables, in a creamy amaretto butternut squash sauce. [all their own words off menu]

Facts: No liquor license, but BYO with a $5 corking fee. Cash or check only. Closed Mondays. Lunch: Tues - Sat, 11a - 2p. Dinner: Tues - Fri, 5p - 10p; Sat/Sun, 4p - 10p.

Atmosphere: Cozy, seating roughly 25 to 30 patrons -- you will likely rub elbows if eating at noon. Some photographs on the walls, 6 bar stools by the entrance window to maximize space. Half-open kitchen (open, but obscured due to small space).

Service: Friendly, prompt, accomodating. On the second visit (a late lunch), the chef was wrapping up, but as his staff began to clean, he came out to make sure everything was well and to ask how I was enjoying the entree.

Cost: Inexpensive for lunch. $6.95 for a huge soup. $8 - $10 for a huge salad (should be split if used as an app, unless starving). $8 - $11 for entrees (lunch). The dinner/take-out menu is more expensive, with entrees running $15 to $20.

Bread: Soft baguette, house-made pesto sauce. Olive oil, grated parmesan and crushed red pepper flakes available at the table.

Lunch 1: Split a caprese salad with my boss, comprised of dandelion greens, fennel, romaine. Warm mozzarella and fresh tomatoes (for Boston in January), a light truffle dressing and heavy on the cracked pepper (which I like). $8.95 split for two.

Entree was the pasta special, a gemelli pasta al dente (well executed, outstanding texture), with a mild red sauce, and spicy sausage, lightly dusted with parmesan. A few slices of sauteed red onion and green pepper, if memory serves correct. $8.95.

Lunch 2: Carmelized onion, roasted garlic soup with a large cheese crostini floating in the middle. Big enough for a light lunch by itself. The soup also had some spinach and small pieces of red pepper in it. $6.95

Entree was the seafood special, two large pieces of sole pan fried on top of a wild mushroom risotto cake, with a side of green beans (very fresh, crisp, especially for Boston in January), the plate lightly covered with slivers of crisped ham/bacon/prosciutto. Of note, the sole was delicately done, and contrasted quite nicely with the just-charred risotto cake, whose interior was still soft and tender. $9.95

Overall: This restaurant is far from much of Boston proper, and may be difficult to find, but seems like a local treasure. At least for lunch, the cost compared to both portion size and quality is unparalleled in my Boston experience.

I am new to chowhound.com, and don't share the anti-Zagat fervor expressed on the home page, but think this restaurant should be up foodie and chowhound alleys alike. IMHO, it fills a deficient sector in Boston dining, the excellent mid-level restaurant -- something like Franklin Cafe (my favorite) -- relatively reasonable prices and outstanding dishes prepared with high quality ingredients and served by helpful people.

Atmosphere is nothing to rave about and there is no bar (both reasons for my loving Franklin Cafe), but this restaurant is definitely worth trying. If it wasn't so far away I'd have lunch there every Saturday. As it stands, I am impressed enough I plan to make the trek out here at least once to try dinner.

Forgive me if this is taboo, but I would give it a Zagat 24.

Eat well and often (and cheaply if possible),
Will Lee

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