Holy Basil, Batman; That’s Fine Thai Dining

29 Mar

Generalization time: many Thai spots in NYC blend together in a haze of generic, undersized storefronts with some variation of the same menu. For the last 4 years, I’ve walked past a nondescript entryway labeled “The Holy Basil”, which leads up a staircase, into a building – presumably to ANOTHER Thai resto waiting to be added to my arsenal of the forgettable. Sounds a bit shady, even for this curious foodie – BUT upon hearing from 2 trusted sources that Holy Basil in the East Village (2nd Ave btwn 9th/10th Sts) is a must-try, I decided to give it a go.

Once past the entryway sitch, I found myself in an Asian Speakeasy – and not one of those places that is designed to LOOK like a speakeasy; the decor is authentic (makes me wonder if it had another eatery identity in a past life). The music is a mix of swing and up-tempo jazz, the crowd was lively, even at 6:45pm on a Saturday. Normally I don’t eat that early, but it worked out nicely because I got in on the pre-7pm 1/2 priced drinks and we also each received a free salad + spring roll as part of the “happy hour” special.

The service was meticulous – our waiter answered all our questions about the menu with enthusiasm – we were never rushed; the pacing was excellent. We appetized with Beef Satay, Steamed Spring Rolls and the Papaya Salad. All solid options – of note, the Papaya Salad was spot-on with the traditional Thai preparation of the dish. My entrée, the Koong Kaprow – seared shrimp with peppers, onions and the namesake Holy Basil – was divine. My dining companions went for the Crispy Duck in a red curry sauce w/lychee and pineapple – glowing reviews. If you like it hot, the spiciest menu items have a double-starred (**) indicator, but I could’ve gone even hotter – so speak up if you want extra heat. Everything we ate was legit; like the ambiance there was just an authenticity to the meal.

It’s uncommon to enter a restaurant and be completely floored that the space even exists, but walking into this solid Thai resto, I had a total “who would’ve known?” moment…  and now YOU know.  So if you want a spot with a completely unexpected (and welcomed) vibe, grab your crew and check it out – you’ll soon be a devout aficionado of Holy Basil.

One Response to “Holy Basil, Batman; That’s Fine Thai Dining”

  1. nick nanos March 30, 2011 at 10:26 am #

    The Holy Basil is a great find! I can attest to the Crispy Duck: it was a dream, as well as the Beef Satay (Also dreamy!). Add more stars for atmosphere. A thoroughly delightful experience!

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