[Originally posted on: OC Register]
Within minutes at Basilico’s Pasta e Vino, it’s clear that this place is filled with regulars. Diners greet waiters as friends, and waiters in turn are quick to remember their usual order. The chairs outside for waiting patrons have blankets draped over them, giving the strip-mall storefront a little of the feel of a friend’s living room. Glasses of wine are poured generously.
It’s the quintessential neighborhood Italian place, and with that come some quirks. If you’re new, take note of things I learned on my first visit. This spot is too good to leave to the locals.
First off, you can’t just swing by for dinner at 7:30 p.m. on a Friday night. Our wait was close to an hour. For those who must arrive during the dinnertime rush, people in the know put down their name and note “Fitz” – as in Fitzgerald’s, the bar next door. Basilico’s will call you when a table’s ready.
It’s a long wait because this restaurant is really small. Though there’s little elbow room, it makes it cozy – a romantic sort of ambiance.
If someone’s celebrating a birthday, be prepared for an eardrum-shattering recording of “Happy Birthday” to be played in Italian. There’s no getting around it, so you may as well cheer and clap along.
With those few caveats, the food, simply, is worth it. These are simple Italian recipes done right. Pasta is perfectly al dente. Sauce needs no seasoning assistance from salt and pepper. Proteins won’t be overdone.
Garlic cheese bread ($4.95) is two ample portions of baguette with a beaker of red sauce. (Apologies for the quality of the photos – I’m no match for romantic lighting.)
Bread is like a cross between a cracker and a cloud – crispy flakes of crust with a fluffy interior. As a carboholic, I’ll typically skip on dipping when I’m eating bread. Here, though, the thick red sauce, with its earthy blend of herbs, is so good I keep coming back.
On the sausage and pepper pasta ($13.95), a light garlic sauce covers the notably fresh meat and veggies.
A strong taste of fennel comes through in the sausage, which lends a pleasing greasiness to the sauce. For all its lightness, this is a hearty dish.
I can’t pass up scallops in white wine sauce ($15.95), and Basilico’s take doesn’t disappoint.
Linguine offers just the right amount of chew. Scallops have a firm exterior, while the centers remain melt-in-your-mouth tender. Lemon and white wine keep the sauce crisp and light, though butter is still the dominant flavor.
A couple of the regular diners rave about the Italian Wedding Soup, so that’ll be my next order. Though snarls defined my first visit, next time I’ll be prepared. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the quest for drool-worthy Italian food takes a little time to get right.
Basilico’s Pasta e Vino
19171 Magnolia St. (at Garfield Avenue)