Cool Basil finds new garden8/6/2014
Liam Anivat is a visionary. When he opened Cool Basil in Clive in 2007, Thai cuisine was still pretty much an inner city thing. His place also expanded the genre’s demographics by adding a full bar with exotic cocktails and the most extensive Thai menu of its day. A date night favorite, Cool Basil has been winning “Best Thai Restaurant” laurels with Cityview readers since 2008. Anivat later opened a Cool Basil in Altoona, a Thai Flavors in Ankeny and Zuzap in north Clive. The Altoona store is no longer affiliated with the Clive Cool Basil, though.
Last spring, Anivat announced that Cool Basil would move two blocks east into a building twice as large and cursed by history. CNN Money magazine called the venue a “deadly location” after it housed six different bars and restaurants and stood vacant for a total of eight years since opening in 1987. First glances of the new place suggest Anivat once again beat the odds. Visibility has improved with a new sign close to 22nd Street entrances. Customers have responded well. The parking lot has been frequently packed despite having twice as much seating as before. Three rooms and a large, stylish patio give diners lots of choices: wood floors or tile; booths, tables or bar stools; TV or not; indoors or outdoors.
The menu is more eclectic than ever. Twenty pages, bound in vinyl folders, might well be the heaviest in town. It spans Thailand from the coconut curries, seafoods and satays of the south to the distinctive salty and sour “saab” dishes of the Laotian border. It also offers a full sushi and sashimi menu. Favorite appetizers included deep-fried prawn cakes with plum sauce (4 for $7); fried tofu delights topped with sweet sauce and peanuts (8 for $6); a crispy Andaman Sea (famous fishing grounds for giant prawns and mollusks) scallop ($9) with cucumber chili; and salmon that was rolled in spinach leaves and fried inside rice paper wrappers (3 for $8).
Soups are a major glory of Thai cuisine, and tom ka, tom yum and crab corn chowder could all be sampled for just $4, with larger bowls also available. Green papaya salad ($8), the paragon of “saab” flavors included tomatoes and snow peas, plus the more traditional carrots, lime dressing, chilies and peanuts with a shrimp won ton.
Prik khing ($10), a Thai staple that doesn’t often make it to American menus, featured fresh green beans stir fried with sweet peppers, hot chilies and slivers of caramelized kaffir lime leaves. The chilies had been soaked in palm sugar for contrasting flavors. My favorite stir fry dish was “eggplant lover” ($10), blessed by lots of Thai eggplant (which barely appeared in other dishes), several kinds of sweet peppers, crispy basil leaves and bean sauce. My favorite among seven curries was an avocado ($13) version that added lima beans, sweet peppers, carrots and basil.
Besides the usual tofu, chicken, beef or pork options, Cool Basil offers duck, shrimp, scallop, calamari and salmon ($4-6). Skin on, fatty duck and calamari were most generous. Lunchtime offers considerable discounts from prices listed here. Carry-out was ready when promised and well packaged. A dessert menu was uncharacteristically short. Thai custard was paired with sticky rice cooked in coconut milk and accented with slivers of spun sugar and eggs. Mango sticky rice and Asian ice creams rounded it out. Kid’s menus are available.
Side Dishes Paul Greenberg’s new book “American Catch: The Fight for Our Local Seafood” reports that 91 percent of the seafood Americans eat is imported while one-third of the seafood Americans catch is sold to other countries. CV
Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.Cool Basil 1250 86th St., Clive Mon. – Thurs. 11 a.m. – 2:30 p.m., and 5 – 9 p.m.; Fri. – Sat. 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.; Sun. noon – 9 p.m.