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Thai Basil

Suddenly, the big chains are looking better.

I was out at Park Meadows, and I was hungry. Absolutely unwilling to eat anything from the food court (and already suffering from my mistake in ordering a grainy, chalky cafe au lait and a cookie that tasted like chocolate-covered balsa wood from the little cafe attached to Nordstrom), I found myself facing big-box chain after big-box chain: California Pizza Kitchen, Johnny Rockets, P.F. Chang's. My options looked grim until I turned toward the Thai Basil that had moved into a massive, freestanding location in the Park Meadows parking lot last year.

I've always liked Thai Basil. Like Tacos y Salsas (see page 48), it's a local chain that's done quite well for itself over the years. There are now several locations across the metro area, usually in small, strip-mall spaces perfect for exposing the joys of approachable, slightly Americanized Thai cuisine. Although Thai Basil isn't my favorite Thai restaurant, all of my meals at its assorted outlets have been decent, dependable and consistently good, if never excellent. So as I stood there, my choice seemed clear. But I was wrong.

The Park Meadows Thai Basil is beautiful, a gigantic two-story space with a vaulted ceiling, full bar and enormous, gorgeous Asian wood carvings displayed everywhere. I was seated in one of the intricately carved and canopied booths along the wall, which I loved; was immediately brought a cool and refreshing beverage by a smiling, friendly server, which I also loved; ordered my lunch and sat there listening to the sound system shift back and forth between mind-numbing soft jazz and the honking trumpets and accordions of bright tejano music. My food came quickly — too quickly, actually. The chicken had the too-sweet flavor and too-soft texture of meat that had sat overly long in either a change-out tray or a hot table, both barely disguised by a weak and toothless curry. The fried rice was dotted with bits of char from the wok in which it had been prepared. My shrimp in tamarind sauce was obviously freshly made, but half the shrimp hadn't been deveined (which drives me crazy and truly tastes like shit), and the sauce could have been run-of-the-mill Chinese takeout sweet-and-sour sauce.

The only thing edible was a plate of yakitori over thin noodles, so I ate that, asked for to-go boxes for the rest and then tossed them as soon as I was clear of the restaurant. I don't know if the kitchen was just having a bad day or what, but my meal had been virtually inedible — so bad that I left Thai Basil looking longingly at the happy dimwits on the California Pizza Kitchen patio next door, actually a bit jealous of their bland, affectless and cookie-cutter chain-restaurant fare.

 
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