[Sidebar] June 19 - 26, 1997
[Food Reviews]
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Generous portions of
home-style Italian cooking

by Dawn Keable

284 Thayer Street, Providence
Open Sun.-Thurs., 11:30 a.m.-1 a.m.
Fri. and Sat., 11:30 a.m.-2 a.m.
Major credit cards
Handicapped accessible

Everyone should have a friend like Joe. This boy can cook! Even Julia Child would be amazed by his innovative use of seasonings. A sprinkle of this, a dash of that, and pow -- a masterpiece. It's all quite logical really. As an Italian, cooking is part of Joe's soul.

Every chef, however, deserves a night off. And Basha, the closest Italian restaurant to Joe's house, seemed a logical choice for us to catch up.

For a Friday night on busy Thayer Street, Basha seemed rather empty. Only about half the tables were filled with young couples. Maybe this was because a majority of the college students had gone home for the summer. Yes! Time to reclaim the city!

Walking into the restaurant, our first impression was that it had amazing potential. The dining area was a great size, and the front was a continuous panel of windows overlooking the street activity outside. Red cloth-covered tables were paired with black lacquered rattan chairs. A single fresh daisy and a candle in a blue glass holder adorned each setting.

We were most impressed, though, with the wall montages hanging above our heads. They were a collection of antique pieces -- a baseball glove, a bike seat, a saddle, dusty leather straps, rusty wrenches.

Starting with drinks, Joe decided on an iced tea ($1.50), and I chose an iced cappuccino with Kahlua ($6.75). Both were incredibly strong -- Joe thought he might not be able to sleep for a year after his. But once the ice cubes melted a little and Joe finally got sugar, we slurped them both quickly.

After this, our appetizers of generous proportions -- fried calamari ($5.50) and stuffed mushrooms ($4.95) -- arrived rather quickly, before I even had a chance to finish describing my fall down the stairs last week. Served with a tomato-based hot pepper sauce, the calamari was tender, but Joe noted (and I agreed) that the batter needed more seasoning. He is king of that sort of thing.

Our stuffed mushrooms were much more satisfying. Packed with a delicious seafood stuffing, they were served in a butter/wine sauce.

For his main course, Joe picked linguine alle vongole ($10.95), and his dish (essentially linguine pasta tossed with littlenecks in a clam broth) suffered the same problem as the rest of his meal -- not quite enough zest. It was a tough call. The basics of food preparation were there, but some of what we tried was on the bland side and needed a little something extra.

My dish, "Chicken Monteverde" ($12.95), was more enjoyable. The marinated chicken breast had been broiled and was served with steamed spinach and mushrooms, then finished with a lemon/ garlic sauce.

It was a very healthy choice, and the chicken was cooked perfectly -- I could cut it with my fork. It also came with a huge side of penne pasta tossed in a light marinara sauce, just enough for lunch the next day.

Although the doggy bags were piling up, we both ordered dessert. Joe justified this to our waitress by telling her that our parents didn't make us clean our plates before dessert. Untrue!

I chose the "very berry tart" ($3.75). Served with whipped cream, it was a tasty blend of raspberries and blackberries in a doughy crust. No need for a take-home container here.

Joe's pick, a slice of strawberry amaretto cake ($3.75), should have been sent back to the kitchen. The triple-layer cake, with alternating layers of strawberry jam, tasted like it had refrigerator burn.

My overall feeling is that Basha is playing it a little too safe. Break out that spice rack, add some pizzazz. If you need some help, give me a call. Seasonings Boy would be glad to share his secrets.

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