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.
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.
Thai Lagoon’s extensive menu puts traditional and modern Thai dishes, such as pad thai ($10.95) and sautéed shrimp in curry ($13.95), alongside Chinese favorites such as Kung Pao chicken ($9.95) and Szechwan chicken ($9.95). Diners can customize entrees with their choice of chicken, beef, pork, or shrimp and can request vegetarian alternatives. Dive into the aquatic flavors of the pad woon sen talay, a stir-fried seafood selection doused with chu see curry sauce, snow peas, and green peas sautéed in oyster sauce ($13.95). Or sup on chicken paradise, which transports its eater to earthly paradise with cashews, pineapple, onions, mushrooms, and scallions ($13.50).
As weary guests lug their suitcases and collapsible travel saxophones up to the front desk of Best Western hotel, their senses are suddenly awakened to the scents of sizzling garlic, simmering coconut, and fresh basil. The source of the exotic aromas is the onsite Thai Lagoon Bistro—an elegant Thai eatery lauded by reporters from Crave Magazine as a hidden gem. In the restaurant's kitchen, chefs fold fresh seafood, meats, and vegetables into a sweeping variety of authentic Thai favorites and rarities—from the popular pad thai noodles to the lesser-known tiger cry spicy beef. They stir pots of soup peppered with lemongrass and chili before turning their attention to massaman chicken curry, which writers from The Columbus Dispatch praised as being “aromatic with allspice, clove, and cinnamon…” They even extend their culinary expertise to a selection of Chinese classics, including kung pao chicken and orange beef.
Diners await meals at white-cloth tables in the elegant dining room lit with soft candlelight and speckled with tropical plants. In the mornings, the restaurant transforms into a breakfast buffet with American-style dishes, including cereals and pancakes shaped like John Wayne waving the US flag.
Blue Ginger’s chefs have no shortage of sources when they need inspiration for their next dish. Rather than limit their scope to a single region or country, they scan recipe books from across Asia and pick out their favorites as starting points. Some of the recipes they dig up date back centuries, but they’re more interested in looking toward the future than dwelling on the past.
It’s certainly a bright future they envision—one in which the best elements of various Asian cuisines have joined forces in the same dishes. There are even some influences from outside Asia that make it into the mix, as the duck fajitas and pan-roasted chilean sea bass will attest. This inclusive spirit isn’t just limited to the food. An extensive drink menu features imported beers, martinis blended with sake, and cocktails stirred with miniature world flags.
Chef Ho, the culinary director behind Ty Ginger Asian Bistro, draws on a deep knowledge of Chinese and Thai cooking techniques to craft creamy curries, sizzling stir-fries, and other Asian classics. But he also offers diners fusion specialties of his own invention. Among these are dishes such as slow-roasted duck breasts and legs that are glazed in honey and grilled in burgundy sauce. Ho makes nearly everything from scratch and uses local ingredients whenever possible, and wholly vegetarian dishes are available upon request. Pair your meal with a tapioca bubble smoothie or a drink from the restaurant's well-stocked bar.