Italian Food Review: OC Register – Claudia Koerner

[Originally posted on: OC Register]

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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)
Huntington Beach
714-963-7980

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Italian Food Review: David

The best food in the city. Try the chicken parmesan!

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Italian Food Review: Amber

As a manager at a major resort chain customer service and guest experience are huge for me. It’s actually somewhat annoying because my expectations are so high that I am most often disappointed. I can always find something to nitpick at, but not at Basilico’s Pasta E Vino. I was truly blown away. Basilico’s is small and intimate which adds a lot of charm to this authentic Italian gem. Sure they get super busy and you may be placed in an awkward table or feel a little crammed in, but its all part of the experience. The wait staff was superb! I can’t think of a single thing to pick at. The food was excellent. We ordered a side of the homemade meatballs after eyeing them on another’s table. Delicious! The red sauce was impeccable. I had the chicken parmesan with pink sauce which was out of this world. Best chicken parm I’ve ever had. My friend had a Panini which was different than expected, it was more like a sub, but still very tasty. It was his birthday and they made a big show of it with an Italian serenade and birthday cake. The whole room cheered and applauded him. Great fun! We brought leftovers home and they were still delicious the next day! Show less

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Italian Food Review: CH

Great food!

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Italian Food Review: Wine ‘n Dine

I’ve tried most of their menu items and everything I’ve had has been really good. Since the restaurant is small and cozy, the wait can sometimes be a little long…but it is always worth it. The service has been great every time. Their happy birthday music is so funny.

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Italian Food Review: GTLO

This is a great place to take a date. I come here every year for Valentine’s Day and it’s fantastic. The wait isn’t terribly long and the only bad thing is they dont take reservations. It’s a cozy quaint restaurant with about 12 tables all to accompany parties of two. The food is really good, the price is not expensive and the service is great!!!!!

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Italian Food Review: OC Register – Ed Larsen

[Originally posted on: OC Register]

By PETER LARSEN / The Orange County Register

The blankets folded neatly on the chairs outside Basilico’s Pasta e Vino are the first hint that this small Italian bistro promises something special.

For while thousands of cars speed past its storefront location in Huntington Beach every day, the wraps signal that those who know it are willing to wait – in the cold, if necessary. And surely that’s a good sign for any restaurant.

Article Tab: HOMEMADE: Penne, Pesto and Shrimp in a cream sauce is a favorite at Basilico's Pasta e Vino in Huntington Beach. Loyal customers are willing to wait to dine at the small Huntington Beach restaurant.

We arrived early enough on a weekend evening to get a table without waiting, though it was the last one big enough for our party of four, tucked away in the corner by a glass-fronted deli case that displayed wine, sparkling water and Italian beer.

Still, the corner seat offers a good vantage point from which to take in the casual restaurant decor – a large painting of pasta twirled around a fork hangs on one wall, a movie poster for “Wise Guys” on another, wine bottles, photos of old-fashioned Italian emigres and Moretti beer mirrors cover the rest.

It’s also a good spot from which to spy on the meals arriving at other tables, all of which makes us grateful when our waiter arrives promptly with a basket of warm bread and butter.

An aroma of garlic hangs thick in the air so we quickly supplement the basic basket with an order of garlic bread ($2.95) and a bowl of Italian wedding soup ($3.50).

The soup arrives an elegant bowl of comfort food: chicken broth that carries a lemon-like tang, miniature meatballs, escarole greens and a healthy measure of rich, chewy Parmesan cheese, both melted within the broth and sprinkled on top.

For someone who always veers toward salad over soup when the question is asked, it’s an epiphany about what I might have been missing. Our waiter tells us it’s a popular item, especially during the winter months when Basilico’s regulars phone in take-out orders to nurse themselves through cold-and-flu season.

Owner Rosemarie Roman comes from the East Coast, bringing her original recipes to the Orange County public when she opened Basilico’s nine years ago this month. Her menu features plenty of the traditional Italian dishes (cheese lasagna and pasta primavera, both $9.95) as well as some that are more common in East Coast Italian restaurants (pasta aglio olio, $7.95, which is essentially pasta in an olive-oil-and-garlic sauce).

From the regular menu, one of our party orders mezza mezza ($9.95), colloquial Italian for “half and half,” which in this case means half fettuccini Alfredo, half penne with red sauce. Also from the menu, we order the Roman house salad with shrimp.

From the list of specials for the day, we order a third main course: fettuccini with pesto, pine nuts and shrimp ($15.95), and I wrap up our quartet of meals with chicken Marsala ($16.95), which is not on the menu but is pretty much available every day.

The dishes arrive in generous portions, all fresh ingredients and garlic heavy – a good thing, that last ingredient. The mezza mezza provides the yin and yang of Italian pastas – the Alfredo sauce rich, creamy and not overly salted as it sometimes arrives at other restaurants, the red sauce on the penne with a spicy Mediterranean kick, ripe with olives and, again, garlic.

The chicken Marsala offered juicy chicken breast with mushrooms in a sauce of chicken broth and wine. The pesto sauce with the fettuccini and shrimp was thick and creamy, and again, well seasoned.

The salad (which can also come with chicken, albacore tuna or Milanesa steak) used the veggies (mixed greens, thinly sliced red onion, and cucumbers) as a bed for a lovely array of shrimp, the outsides lightly browned in garlic and olive oil, the inner flesh cooked just enough to give a satisfying crunch with each bite.

At the end of the night, we really didn’t need dessert, but then, given how tasty the earlier courses had been, who could pass up the homemade tiramisu ($5.50)? Light and creamy, the chocolate still had a crunch to it and the coffee only accented the chocolate and the cream without overpowering it, like it can at other restaurants.

Two of us returned for a second visit on a weeknight a few days later, getting to the restaurant by 5 p.m. before the dinner rush forced us into those chairs outside.

This time, the appetizer menu offered another new-to-me treat, risotto cakes ($5), three lightly baked pillars of warm, moist risotto, with a balsamic vinaigrette sauce drizzled over them and the mixed greens that surrounded them on the plate. Like the wedding soup from our previous visit, these had that comfort-food feeling.

Picking an Italian restaurant standard off the menu – chicken Parmesan ($11.95) – I was pleased with the portions and the way the chicken had been cooked to that point where the exterior had a nice crunchiness to each bite while the meat inside remained moist and tender.

As we ate, silent and happy with our meal, again with attentive but not obtrusive service, a crowd started to grow outside the restaurant, what looked like a family taking their daughter to dinner after graduating from high school.

By the time we left, the restaurant was packed and eight people waited outside for their turn at this small, unassuming, Italian gem.

Basilico’s Pasta e Vino
Rating: 4 stars
Where: 19171 Magnolia St., Huntington Beach
Hours: 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Cost: Entrees mostly run $8.95 to $15.95.
Phone: 714-963-7980

Recommended:

To start: Italian wedding soup
Entree: Fettuccini with pesto, pine nuts and shrimp (an occasional special) or chicken marsala.
Dessert: Tiramisu

Contact the writer: 714-796-7787 or [email protected]

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