I hadn’t been to Thai Basil in more than 17 years. When the restaurant opened, in 2004, near the corner of Tuskawilla and Red Bug Lake Roads, that area wasn’t known for much beyond chain restaurants. Thai restaurants weren’t as scarce as they had been when I first came to Central Florida, but one opening in this part of town was a novelty. Most people were used to Taco Bells.
In fact, Thai Basil was and is next door to a Taco Bell. And Winter Springers (Tuskawillians?) took to TB (Thai Basil) in large numbers, so much so that TB (Taco Bell) resorted to towing cars whose drivers parked in its lot but walked next door to the Thai restaurant.
I went back to see how Thai Basil is doing these days. There was no problem finding a non Taco Bell parking space but the restaurant was doing a good business for an early-in-the-week lunch.
The small dining room is still painted in an otherworldly hue of green, and tables are still topped with tablecloths partially covered with glass.
Service is still gracious, and the food is still first rate.
I started with a bowl of the tom kha gai, the chicken soup flavored with coconut milk and lime juice and a healthy bit spicy heat, evident in the slick of red that topped the broth. I had ordered the dish medium hot, but the spiciness surprised me, and then made me chuckle. I remember a time when fans of hot foods had to beg Thai restaurant workers to make the food spicy. If you didn’t use the words “Thai hot” – I think you also had to wink and use a special handshake – the server wouldn’t believe you and the foods would come out mild enough to feed a baby. Which is not to say this soup was inappropriately hot – the seasonings were well balanced and well fit my definition of medium-hot.
For my entree I selected red curry with beef, which had a hearty gravy – also medium-hot – with thin bits of beef, onions, red bell peppers, carrots, bamboo shoots and, curiously, pineapple. Of all the red curries I’ve had over the years, I don’t recall ever finding pineapple. It wasn’t unpleasant, just unexpected.
The dish was served with a generous timbale of jasmine rice.
I enjoyed my return to Thai Basil. I’m sorry that it took 17 years to get back. But in comparison, it’s been longer since I’ve been to a Taco Bell.