In the common vernacular, to call anyone “basic” is pretty much an insult, indicating that one is an Uggs-wearing, pumpkin spice latte-loving simpleton content to try to keep up with the Kardashians. Although there’s house kombucha ($5), a smattering of smoothies and juices ($10), and a handful of coffee offerings, with nary a spicy squash drink in sight, it’s safer to say Basic Kitchen is focused on keeping it simple.
Formerly Andolini’s Pizza on Wentworth Street, what was once a rugged and industrial space has been transformed into a light, sunny venue. After waiting about 15 minutes during a busy lunch service, I was led through the bustling kitchen to a small, private courtyard in back. Although lovely, the less sure footed among you may want to take a pass on this option, as the thin wooden benches rest precariously on the cobblestone ground and nearly took down several diners in my vicinity.
Glancing at Chef Air Casebier’s menu, there’s an obvious focus on mindful eating, and vegan and gluten-free options abound.
Case in point, the vegan cauliflower “wings” ($8) feature eight tempura-battered florets topped with traditional buffalo sauce and garnished with celery leaves. Impeccably fried, the cauliflower inside still had a little crunch and was accompanied by some pickled celery and a “I can’t believe this is vegan” cashew ranch sauce on the side.
Meanwhile, the fawaffle ($12) is a cutesy-sounding idea that belly flops, with the traditional garbanzo bean-based falafel batter hardened into a dry and unforgiving patty in a waffle iron. But where it’s hard to get a fork into the fawaffle itself, it’s nearly impossible to keep one out of the side of garlic hummus and Israeli salad. Made with chunks of cucumber, lightly pickled cukes, and quartered cherry tomatoes, as well as fresh parsley and mint, the delightful salad is bright and fresh and almost makes up for the crime committed against the (typically) fried Middle Eastern fritter. Almost.
Basic Kitchen’s service is informed and super friendly, with an apparent commitment to the slow food movement in a literal sense. It’s hard not to overlook the fact that food comes out very slowly with a 45-minute wait between appetizers and mains, a near lifetime when considering the average lunch break.
When it finally emerged, the vegetable curry ($13) was disappointing, with unexpectedly sweet notes of brown sugar and ginger rendering it reminiscent of gingerbread. Made with a lentil base dotted with chunks of carrot and zucchini, it’s sweet, bland, and mushy, with none of the telltale flavors — cumin, turmeric or tamarind, let alone coconut milk — that make me think of an Indian curry. The fresh cilantro and crisp papadum wafer on top, however, helped to greatly salvage an otherwise forgettable concoction.
On the other hand, the rainbow bowl ($12) is as pleasing as it is perplexing.
Clearly not willing to kowtow to the fresh veggie spiralizing craze, the sweet potato noodles are not even kissing cousins of the fries on the plate of the neighboring turkey burger. The chewy, slippery — albeit yes, vegan and gluten free — offering known as japchae, or Korean glass noodles, are fundamentally devoid of the residual nutritional benefits of the whole food source. Truthfully, having expected thin curls of actual sweet potatoes, I felt a little gypped, man. Nonetheless, topped with crisp kale and tender carrots, plus onion, purple cabbage, and zucchini slices, this is a lovely vegan option. Bringing it all together, the peanut sauce pairs with the soy and sesame oil-flavored noodles in a manner that inspires visions of Thai, Korean, and Chinese food all at once.
On the other end of the culinary perspective, the trout nicoise ($14) arrives camera ready, but flavor-wise stacks up more on the side of drab. Here, a base layer of al dente broccoli, crisp green beans and halved cherry tomatoes mingle with chopped nicoise olives and paper thin slices of watermelon radish. While the marble potatoes mentioned on the menu failed to make it onto the plate, half a notably raw egg unfortunately did. Accompanied by a small portion of flaky trout and a ramekin of the same rich Green Goddess dressing, it’s all a little too bland to shine. Smoke that trout or consider including some more traditional nicoise embellishments like capers, anchovies, or dijon and shallot-based dressing and I may be singing a different tune.
In contrast, the basic bowl ($14) defies its name. Here, a plate of toothy brown rice is topped with a variety of the restaurant’s vegetable side dish offerings. The braised beans with tomato and garlic pairs pinto beans with whole Roma tomatoes in a combo that was ultimately filling, but boring. Same can be said for the sweet potato, wherein the tiny, skin-on potato has been halved, grilled to tender and coated in something very, very spicy. However, pair these simpler elements with the dry fried sesame kale and the bowl starts to seem a lot less, well, basic. Featuring both sesame oil and seeds, as well as the flavors of soy and ginger, the kale is one of the most pleasing counterparts on the plate. It’s upstaged only by the grilled Brussels sprouts, which are lightly browned with notes of horseradish and honey, and elevate the bowl from austere to complex. The dish also features an accompanying ramekin of homemade Green Goddess dressing, plus what appears to be some leftover carrot ginger juice pulp. Waste not, want not?
The addition of a grilled chicken breast with chimichurri ($6) might comfort anyone suspicious of vegan cuisine, but didn’t add much overall. Thin, but juicy, the six ounce piece of meat is super plain, with almost no flavor but that of the grill and the thin smudge of chimichurri on top. Save your six George Washingtons, as in the end it wasn’t necessary: The vegan bowl as assembled was more than filling.
That stated, poultry eaters cannot go wrong with the Thai-spiced turkey burger ($14). The other, other white meat is formed into a patty with a meatloafy consistency. Notoriously bland and flavorless, ground turkey can often taste like the tofu of meats, something Chef Casebier clearly knows. In her hands however, the turkey burger patty is thick and peppered with mild herbal notes, but the real magic is in the assembly of the actual burger. Housed between the soft, supple layers of a Hawaiian bun, the juicy patty is paired with a crunchy sesame slaw, pickled cucumber skin slices, and a brilliant coconut aioli, which wraps up the Thai package with a bow. Meanwhile, the accompanying sweet potato fries are clearly fresh-cut and deliver anything you could ever want from the genre. Bravo.
In short, Basic Kitchen offers clean, simple food that will kill you somewhat less slowly than most of what you probably usually consume. The bright, airy space alone is worth a visit, and so long as expectations stay focused on the idea of healthy basics, the largely uncomplicated offerings are more than likely to please.
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