8801 University Ave., Clive, 225-8111
Mon. - Thurs.: 11 a.m. - 9 p.m.;
Fri. - Sat. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m.;
Sun.: 5 p.m. - 9 p.m.
Thai is still “the new Thai”
— the ethnic cuisine that more
Iowa adults are trying for the
first time. Metro Des Moines has
been blessed with talented Thai
chefs — Somchai “T” Luangaram,
Ormsin “Mao” Heineman and Liam
Anivat at the top of the list.
When Cityview readers recently
named Anivat’s Cool Basil in Clive
the best Thai restaurant in the
metro, that cuisine passed a milestone.
Cool Basil’s sister café
Thai Flavors on East 14th Street,
had won that distinction in the
past. That’s expected because
research shows that inner city
diners are more adventurous than
those in well-to-do suburbs. Any
cuisine can make it in New York
City. If you can make it in Clive,
you’ll make it anywhere.
Cool Basil is the most stylish
of local Thai cafés with
tall ceilings, comfortable Asian
Deco furnishings and modern Thai
art stating that this place is
no cliché. The kitchen
lives up to that. Anivat serves
a modern pan-Thai menu. Seafood
dishes, coconut curries and satays
represent southern Thailand. Cool
Basil also offers many examples
(green papaya salad) of “saab,”
a distinctive northern Thai flavor
that skates borders between salty
and sour, between Laos and Thailand.
Anivat’s prawn cakes with plum
sauce are great for Thai beginners,
a sweet riff on crab cakes. So
are his “angel wings,” de-boned
chicken wings stuffed with transparent,
mung bean noodles and black mushroom
paste before being deep-fried
and served with serious hot sauce.
Even potstickers were deep-fried
to assimilate more familiar foods.
Other dumplings were steamed.
Old Thai favorites were given
stylish presentations, such as
vegetable relishes carved into
elaborate flowers. Classic Thai
soups combined chicken stock with
lemongrass, kaffir lime, ginger
and galangal for a bi-polar episode
in hot/cold, sweet/sour, salty/spicy
Prik khing, a Thai staple that
doesn’t often make it to American
menus, was a surprise entree.
Green beans were stir fried with
meat or tofu, plus slivers of
caramelized kaffir lime leaves,
chilies, sweet peppers that had
been soaked in palm sugar for
a contrasting flavor. I tried
two of five curries offered, both
cooled hand-ground chile pastes
with coconut milk. Holy basil
was available in several dishes
but not distinguished by name
on the menu. I tried a “basil”
stir-fry, which mixed it with
kaffir lime leaves, pork, peppers
and home made garlic sauce. Substituting
holy for sweet basil in other
dishes was not a problem.
A personal favorite (duck with
lychee salad) was no longer on
the salad menu, but I enjoyed
a not-too-sour green papaya salad
paired well with a crispy shrimp
won ton. I passed on a recommended
deep fried salmon salad, which
I suspected had taken the place
of my favorite. I’ve enjoyed Cool
Basil’s duck as much as any in
town and was consoled to find
it offered as a substitute in
entrees, even at lunch. Squid,
scallops, mussels, shrimp and
crabmeat were also available for
a small surcharge. For less than
$10, I enjoyed superb eggplant
dish with all those delights added.
A duck pad thai delivered some
fatted breast meat in rice sticks’
Cool Basil’s desserts elevate
it above most Asian restaurants.
A new Thai custard was sensational,
paired with sticky rice that had
been cooked in coconut milk and
accented with slivers that looked
like matchstick noodles but were
actually made from spun sugar
and eggs. Mango sticky rice, taro
sticky rice and some Asian ice
creams also drew raves.
Cool Basil offers six gradations
of heat, but I experienced inconsistency.
A “4” was mild one day and excruciatingly
hot on another. Such surprises
were replaced cheerfully when
brought to the attention of the
staff. There’s a full bar and
short, inexpensive wine list.
DMACC’s venerable Robert Anderson
is one of four finalists for this
year’s national Culinary Educator
of the Year award. … Midwest Energy
is offering rebates on new energy
efficient icemakers, refrigerators,
etc. Information at midamericanenergy.com/html/energy6m.asp.
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