When Basil Restaurant opened in 2009, the Columbus Dispatch reported on owner Rhome Ruanphae's inspiration: his mother?s string of successful Thai restaurants?beginning with Thai Village in Chicago?s Wicker Park neighborhood?that she ran with her husband while he was growing up. Rhome borrowed his mother?s culinary mastery for Basil, which teleports taste buds to Thailand with a menu of authentic Southeast Asian cuisine. Chefs gather rice or egg noodles to lay the foundation for many entrees, such as specialty kee mow, a soft or crispy maelstrom of rice noodles with thai basil, tomatoes, and bell peppers. The menu also features a rainbow of curries, soups, salads, and appetizers to keep ravenous diners from eating their napkins.
The seasoned confines of a former antique shop welcome diners to Basil Restaurant, decked out with bare brick and a retro advertisement for ice painted on the back wall. As a glittering chandelier casts light on colorful curries, wine-dark panels of varnished wood gaze at diners from the wall, and exposed lengths of ductwork add a neoindustrial aesthetic without the overkill of steam-powered dessert trays or austere Orwellian maitre d's.
Two Fish Bistro is the yang to the yin of Red, a sushi bar in the same building also owned by the Daeoh group. While Red draws out the essence of raw seafood, Two Fish unleashes the flavors of its flame-kissed counterpart to craft a menu that 614 calls "concise and approachable." To introduce diners to their distinct flavor parings, Two Fish's chefs assemble mini fish tacos from housemade crispy flour chips, sautéed whitefish, and garlic-parmesan aioli. Their entrees draw on wild-caught seafood purchased fresh daily, such as the specialty tuna, a walnut-crusted, medium-rare cut that perches on a pillow of fluffy wasabi mashed potatoes with a maple-butter reduction and treats diners to the satisfying crunch of a charred-scallion garnish. To accent its colorful, carefully plated cuisine, Two Fish keeps its interior sleek and simple. Several enormous windows marry form and function, bathing the square wooden tables and mixed wood walls in natural sunlight or the unnatural glow of bioluminescent snowflakes. Three flat-screen TVs watch over a gray stone bar, surrounded on all sides by minimalist low-rise chairs.
At Shoku, morsels of succulent beef, marinated chicken, and ocean-fresh seafood fill out feasts of Japanese noodles and sushi or dishes inspired by national favorites of Asian nations including Korea, China, and Thailand. Broth-soaked udon noodles jostle for attention with plates of pad thai, pan-fried pot stickers, and bowls of sizzling beef bulgogi. Guests take a seat inside to watch a master chef deftly carve seafood at the sushi table, or they can lounge under umbrellas at the outdoor seating to watch the passing foot traffic and hourly soapbox derbies along Grandview Avenue.
Deep-fried sweet potato, jalape?o aioli, honey-infused wasabi. These aren?t ingredients found on the traditional sushi menu, but the chefs at Red Bar & Sushi somehow incorporate them into their lengthy repertoire of specialty rolls. The team puts their imagination to good use, designing innovative maki such as the UFC roll?crab, eel, jalape?o, and cucumber rolled together and deep-fried in a tempura batter?or the simple, but sophisticated, Samba roll made from tuna, cilantro, and avocado. Red Bar?s chefs offer the classics as well, including fresh servings of salmon, yellowtail, and octopus sashimi, and what they call ?standard? sushi rolls, like the california roll crammed with crab and avocado or the philadelphia roll made with cream cheese.
Bold, earthy paintings line the canary-yellow walls of Lemongrass, but they have to contend with the vibrant spreads of sushi and pad thai that top the plates at the pan-Asian bistro. Sushi, sashimi, and nigiri options run the gamut from barbecue eel and asparagus to a specialty Manhattan roll glazed with shrimp caviar. A lighter lunch menu presents smaller portions of the dinner entrees, along with handheld options such as chicken bacon and shrimp-tempura wraps. An extensive wine menu complements the dinner and lunch menus, and the tempting dessert menu catalogs fried plantains and mango sorbet served in a mango rind.
The staple of Sushi Rock’s menu is its selection of roughly 50 sushi, sashimi, and maki rolls, which collect multiple Japanese flavors into one neat package. The Sushi Rock roll alone packs a punch of shrimp tempura, crabstick, salmon, tuna, asparagus, and masago. A slate of USDA Prime steaks and fresh seafood entrees such as sesame-seared tuna complement the sushi-bar creations. Each meticulously plated dish arrives in Sushi Rock's ultra-modern dining space, where backlit bottles glisten against a cityscape mural in the bar area, and color blocks of red and black pop in the dimly lit dining areas. Together, Sushi Rock’s choice food and hip vibe earned it a No. 1 ranking on CityVoter's Best Sushi list in 2010.