Anointing the city's most romantic restaurant is no easy feat. Lots of places call themselves "romantic," but what does that really mean?
Candlelight, obviously. Dishes designed to be easily shared. Quiet enough to hear sweet nothings, yet bustling enough that it doesn't feel like everyone's eavesdropping. Seats so close they guarantee the accidental grazing of knees.
Basi Italia fits the bill in all those ways. I've had meals inside this intimate restaurant-inside-a-house, where the dining room is carved up into small, secluded spaces. I've watched the sun set on the white-twinkle-lit patio. And I'm ready to call it: Basi is Columbus' most romance-inducing spot.
During a recent evening I spent on that patio, many plates were shared over a bottle of wine: A recipe for amour if I ever heard one. And I wasn't even on a date.
Dining at Basi is best when you commit to the full several-hour, multi-course experience, starting with the starters.
I'll never pass up the Zucchini Pronto appetizer ($7), a dish delicious enough to convince anyone to flirt with vegetarianism. Eating this one is like opening a present-the plate is served draped in four impossibly thin slices of pecorino. The cheese melts just slightly after coming into contact with steamy sautéed zucchini matchsticks tossed with toasted almonds and herbs. Each forkful should include a bit of zucchini and a bit of pecorino for maximum deliciousness.
A happy new discovery was the Honey Pistachio Flatbread appetizer ($11). The thin crackery pizza had a slather of balsamic-tasting sauce smothered in melted fontina. But the gorgeous toppings-big slices of crispy prosciutto "bacon," honey-roasted pistachios and bits of roasted asparagus-were what elevated this above the typical flatbread heap.
Risotto is a standby on the Basi menu, and that night's option was a Lobster Risotto ($25). A striking lobster tail towered above corn-flecked risotto, making this dish quite a beautiful one.
That roasted sweet corn gave the risotto an intriguing shot of flavor, and a pool of intense golden tomato jam underneath added another layer of sweet-and-savory goodness. A pesto sauce drizzle completed the artfully composed plate.
We also tried the Tagliatelle ai Funghi ($23), aka pasta with mushrooms-sounds much sexier in Italian, doesn't it? Wide thick noodles came with sautéed local wild mushrooms, wilted spinach, green sweet peas and a peppery truffle sauce, kissed with a just a little reggiano. Sounds a bit heavy, but even with the truffle oil, it tasted light and springy.
Prettiest, though, was our dessert, a tiramisu-flavored flan ($8). The mood lighting helped, I'm sure-it was dark out by that point, the patio lit only by candlelight and a few strands of white lights-but this dish was stunning.
This "tiramisu" began with a hockey puck of espresso-tinged, cheesecake-y custard. A long ladyfinger baton rested, askew, on top of the custard, which was subsequently speared with a lattice of creamy milk chocolate. A pile of fluffy mascarpone whipped cream sat next to the custard, and then the whole plate was drizzled in plenty of dark chocolate and caramel sauce. As pretty as it was, it tasted even better.
And it's dishes like this that make me fall in love … with Basi Italia.