There’s a real urban charm to Grand Avenue just south of Tower Grove Park. The neighborhood is home to plenty of reasonably-priced restaurants, many of which are ethnic; several bars, often with music; a used bookstore, a bank, a drug store, a dry cleaner and a good ethnic grocery store: These are the things that make up a neighborhood. Fortunately, its low-budget hipness is not restricted to the young, but happily integrated, in terms of age, color, gender and finances–although this latter is perhaps weaker than the other factors. The newest player in the neighborhood restaurant scene is Basil Spice, in a tastefully minimalist storefront.
Family run by Somying Fox and her aunt Renoo Jansala, who’s in the kitchen, the cuisine shows some notes of Chinese and some fusion as well. For instance, the appetizer goong hom pah shows off shrimp, straight as an arrow, inside a wonton wrapper and quickly deep-fried. The shrimp keeps its flavor, there’s no greasiness, and the accompanying sauce is a clear, sweet-hot orange flash. Handsome and tasty. The chicken satay arrived hot and moist on its skewers, lightly brushed with the peanut-coconut sauce, accompanied by a small bowl of cucumber relish and more of the orange sauce, which had a modest amount of heat.
Chicken dumplings definitely aren’t coming out of granny’s black iron kettle. It’s a take on shu mai, the pork dumplings often found on dim sum carts, but more subtle. A little chewy by Western standards, but quite tasty with a subtle flavor that charms. Vegetarian summer rolls in a rice paper wrapper are cool but, rather than being subtle, they’re just bland, needing that same sauce that comes with the shrimp, or a thicker soy-and-peanut sauce that arrives alongside.
One of the most striking entrees was ba-mee mhoo dang, noodles with Thai-style barbecued pork, shown in the photo. Slices of pork, a little crispy here, a little chewy there, topped thin, tender noodles with bean sprouts, chopped green onions, cilantro and some romaine lettuce. The pork’s slightly sweet, the whole thing a nice combination of flavors and, almost as important, textures. In the curry department, mussa-muhn, often spelled mussaman, curry with shrimp was tangy from the tamarind juice and pineapple, and sweet from the onions and coconut milk. The shrimp were just right, tender and with good flavor. Heat levels, requested at our customary "somewhere between medium and hot," were more like medium or slightly below.
What Thai menus call salads sometimes surprise Americans because the dishes are almost always served warm. Lahb, which we’ve also seen called larb or larp, is ground meat, here a choice of chicken, pork or beef, cooked and seasoned with red and green onions, cilantro and lime juice, which provides a good seasoning for the rice. Tangy, and one of our favorites, we tried it with pork, with savory results, but here again medium-hot was definitely less spicy than we would have expected. And from the seafood section came rahd na talay, shown below, a sort of stir fry over noodles, carrying calamari, scallops, shrimp and a mild white fish, perhaps orange roughy, all in a slightly thick sauce that bore clear evidence of the promised soybeans, not so salty as soy sauce but with the rich mouth-feel that soy can produce.
At Basil Spice, the food is served individually, rather than on serving dishes in the middle of the table; non-noodle dishes come with a large scoop of rice. Servings are reasonable, but not immense. There’s a slender wine list, at reasonable prices, and a good selection of beer. We like the imported Singha beer with spicy Thai cuisine. Our severs have been pleasant but sometimes a little hard to understand. However, meals came out as ordered, and there were plenty of those marvelous Thai smiles.
3183 S. Grand Blvd.
Lunch Mon.-Fri., Dinner nightly
Credit cards: All major
Wheelchair access: Poor