Some say I’m a hopeless romantic, and maybe I am. For instance, I actually believe in the movie Like Water for Chocolate, that the energy you put into the food you cook has a direct affect on your guests. Love breeds love. Fear, hate and discontent breed sickness.
Let me explain. Last week I had the pleasure of dining at Basilico Organic. It’s the first USDA-certified organic restaurant in the Midwest, meaning the U.S. Department of Agriculture has certified that every ingredient in every item on Basilico’s menu — from food to alcohol — was harvested in an organic environment. Everything that touches your lips is free of pesticides, antibiotics, preservatives and hormones.
As impressive as this is, it’s not the most impressive thing about this restaurant. The most impressive thing is its spirit bestowed by owner Antoniela Miranda, whose sincerity is palpable. When you’re at Basilico, you forget you’re eating healthy. You’re simply eating exceptional Italian food prepared by a Venezuelan family and made with love. You might as well be eating in Antoniela’s kitchen instead of in a strip mall in Mason.
But that’s not the feeling you get when you walk through Basilico’s doors for the first time. At first glance, with the ordering at the counter, bright lights and plastic white chairs, you might feel you’ve arrived at a contemporary, high-end Chipotle. Not so.
Take a look at the menu: artisan bread (white, whole wheat, Sicilian or Tuscan), homemade lasagna, spicy vodka ravioli and six wood-fired pizzas. Not to mention a small variety of organic wines and beers and some sushi thrown in for good measure. (They also have a breakfast menu.)
While ordering at the counter isn’t always fun, it is at Basilico.
Our “counter guide” was just like a server, introducing us to the concept and the menu. He was more than accommodating. For instance, when I asked about appetizers, he said there were none on the menu but that he could make them for us. “Do you like bruschetta?” he asked.
He also made a wine recommendation, the Chilean Nuevo Mundo. I was thrilled to get organic wine in a restaurant, since it’s the only wine I drink at home; it doesn’t leave me feeling groggy or with a headache, because it doesn’t contain added sulfites.
Wine was quickly delivered to our table despite the fact that there was one server for at least 20 people. But as soon as we sat down, I started feeling woozy, a detail important to this story, probably because I hadn’t eaten much that day. My friend Kathleen immediately went up to the counter and asked our server for some bread, telling her I was feeling nauseous. Two slices of ciabatta arrived within five minutes, wonderfully toasted with garlic. I ate them quickly, and it wasn’t long before Kathleen’s food arrived.
Along with it came owner Antoniela. From what we gathered, thinking Kathleen’s dish was for me, she’d rushed it out because she’d heard I was nauseous. Bear in mind I’d never met her, but she looked at me, hugged me and said, “You look tired.” And she did it with sincerity.
Of course I was. And I was sick. But I got the feeling that this restaurant owner considers you a guest in her home when you walk through the door. It’s an attitude that has been lost in many of the impersonal or too-hip-to-be-personal or let’s-pretend-to-be-personal or just plain cold restaurants that survive these days.
I already really liked this woman, and I was hoping Basilico’s food was as wonderful as its owner. I didn’t have to worry. Kathleen’s Mediterranean Panini ($8.95) was a real panini: thick whole-wheat artisan bread with a lovely homemade pickled eggplant and delicate handmade chips on the side. Everything was clearly made from scratch. Basilico also tries to buy as much food as possible locally, but has to make sure it has the USDA organic label — not easy for some local places to get.
The veggie wood-fired pizza ($14.99) was one of the best I’ve ever had. The crust had a goodness and freshness that went straight to the soul, with pockets of smoky wood-fire flavor as if it had been seared over a campfire. The ricotta was mild and fresh, barely perceptible, and the red onions, mushrooms, bell peppers and zucchini were generous.
The only thing it was missing was a bite of flavor; I would have liked some crushed red peppers. Of course, bear in mind that I ordered it without tomato sauce.
In the end, Basilico cured my nausea. Kathleen, my sensitive friend who eats only the purest food and usually gets sick when she eats out, felt great the next morning. Which brings us back to Like Water for Chocolate — could be the organic purity, could be the love.
Go: 6176 Tylersville Road, Mason
Hours: 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday
Payment: All credit cards
Red Meat Alternatives: Plenty
Accessibility: Fully accessible