Review: Basil's of Narragansett

Doing the Continental
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  October 20, 2010

Like the rolling surf a stone's throw from Basil's of Narragansett, a fine dining restaurant as reliable as this one never changes when it comes to essentials. The recent evening we visited, in the parking lot a confab of surfer dudes was watching an outdoor screening of some Maui wowie super-waves, glorying in their adventurous sport. We stepped inside to re-appreciate French cuisine as practiced there, an experience that to foodies can be no less thrilling.

The bright yellow-and-white façade with the cheerful vertical-stripe awning has been a landmark on that spot since 1984, when it opened as a French Provincial restaurant. The menu today is more eclectic, but it remains as Gallic as a frog's leg (which is still served as an appetizer, sautéed with garlic and lemon, for $12), the offerings expanded, by their definition, to Continental.

Basil's of Narragansett |401.789.3743 | 22 Kingstown Rd, Narragansett | Tues-Sun, 5:30-10 pm | Major Credit Cards | Full Bar | Sidewalk-Level Access

Every restaurant with a decent wine list gets a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence now and then, but Basil's has earned them annually since 2002. Their wine list runs past 250, with premium American selections vastly outnumbering the 14 French wines and some added from five other countries. Only a half-dozen are available by the glass, but that list isn't available, not a consumer-convenient practice.

Chef Vasilios Kourakis, co-proprietor with his wife Kathy, came to the States from Crete as a teenager and apprenticed in numerous French-oriented kitchens over the years. On the restaurant's website, he takes pride in the claim that every meal ever served at Basil's has been prepared by him. And he is confident enough in diners responses' to post links — not just cherry-picked quotes — to three online customer review services.

The main dining room that you enter is rather small, with fewer than 30 seats, although 20 more are available in another room. What's most striking about the space is the wallpaper. Festooned with large, pink peony-esque flowers on a dark background, the effect could be garish but instead, at least to me, signals homey comfort of the doting grandmother sort. Each table holds an oil lamp with a tiny lampshade and a vase of, on our visit, carnations and baby's breath.

There are classics on the menu, from escargot Bourguignon ($10) and oysters Rockefeller ($12) for starters, to coq au vin ($19) and soft shell crab almondine ($29) for entrées. Prices range into the $40s for twin lobster tails and surf 'n' turf.

But we wanted to provide you, dear reader, with a bargain opportunity in these penny-pinching times. So we chose from the fall/winter special menu of three-course dinners for $25. We cracked open fresh hot rolls, munched sesame bread sticks, and considered the specifics.

Johnnie started with the house salad, mixed greens tossed with a creamy vinaigrette, the lightly marinated red cabbage component a nice touch. I had the French onion soup, gratinée, ($7 a la carte), as I always choose here. Quality ingredients are the open secret. The rich beef stock and the well-browned Gruyere atop bread disks make it a definitive treat.

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