Restaurant Review - Royal herb

Mediterranean-American proves pleasing at Basil's

Basil was called the "Herb of Kings" by the ancient Greeks, and is a key ingredient in many Mediterranean dishes. But it shows up dried and ground as a common addendum in American kitchens, as well.

Sam Kahwach, executive chef and part owner of Basil's, loves the herb and wanted to show his obeisance by naming a restaurant after it. The newly renovated Basil's, located along a busy strip of restaurants and department stores in East Cobb, applies the herb to its mix of American and Mediterranean cuisine choices. So the farfalle pasta is combined with sundried tomatoes and a basil pesto sauce. Seared halibut arrives over kalamata olive mashed potatoes, leek compote and tomato chutney.

The sprawling space in the Market Plaza shopping center is kept warm and cozy with rich colors. Anchoring the room from the center is the bar, which houses a fine collection of American, European and Australian wines. Every other Wednesday the restaurant hosts wine tastings, and Thursday is martini night. But belly up to the bar for happy hour any weeknight.

Appetizers offer a first glimpse of the herb in action. The pan-roasted mussels ($9.50) in lemon garlic butter come with tomato and fresh basil. The most Mediterranean option is the mesa plate of grape leaves, hummus, baba ghanoush and tabouli ($7.25). Calamari was crispy, lightly breaded and tender. Served with a tomato leek sauce and cilantro aioli ($5.95), it's a great start to any meal.

The selection of pastas and risottos is small but intense. The combo of crawfish, exotic mushrooms and basil oil in the curried risotto was appealing ($12.95), but we stuck to the shrimp cake linguini ($13.95). Basil oil shows up in this dish as well, alongside the sweet pepper puree and lemon pepper linguini. The three hefty portioned breaded shrimp cakes were the real standout with their sweet, rich flavor and crisp, breaded exterior.

Seafood dominates the menu in both entrees and pastas, but a selection of chops and steaks includes filets, ribeye, lamb or beef tenderloin. A choice of Gorgonzola butter, peppercorn brandy or Cabernet wine sauce accompanies the meat, which seems tame fare against the more inventive seafood selections.

Pistachio-crusted salmon comes with new roasted potatoes and French beans, and sesame seared tuna is served over jasmine rice with stir-fry vegetables in a ginger vinaigrette.

The double filet of trout (with skin attached) comes stuffed with crabmeat and is served over white rice, wilted spinach and a tarragon cream sauce ($14.95). Inside the filets was a small lump of crabmeat mixed with bread crumbs and herbs. The trout was satisfying, if not all that exciting, but the crabmeat did little to complement its flavor. The rice was cold and overcooked, but the tarragon sauce with the wilted spinach sparked the somewhat boring plate.

Desserts ran the gamut of the usual suspects — Key lime pie, white and dark chocolate cheesecake — but also included some other Mediterranean specialties such as baklava or flan. If you want to sample more of the menu for less, show up between 5-6:30 p.m. and get the "Early Bird Dinner" special: $15.95 includes salad, entree and dessert. Lunch is also served with a selection of sandwiches and other dishes, which range between $6-$12.

Kahwach's ode to the herb is a fine attempt and a great addition to the neighborhood. With the help of King Basil, he's been successful in bringing a bit of the Mediterranean to this corner of the city.??