Sweet Basil & La Filipiniana

By | January 30, 2006

Sweet Basil & La Filipiniana
Lawrenceville Location:
5321 Butler St
T-S: 5-1

Squirrel Hill Location:
2022 Murray Ave
Lunch : T-F . 11.30-3

Dinner : T-F 5-10, Sat-Sun 12-10

Looking for something exotic and interesting? Look no further: try Sweet Basil & La Filipiniana, a Thai and Filipino restaurant that is in Lawrenceville (or Larryville as the locals call it) and just added a location to Squirrel Hill. I remember wanting to go to this place probably 4 years ago, but for some reason I could never get anyone to go. Now that it has moved to Squirrel Hill, where Indian Oven used to be, it is within walking distance to my house, which means any random outing to Squirrel Hill might become a surprise trip to Sweet Basil – especially since it turns out to live up to its exotic potential.

When we arrived, we became immersed in the menu and all the delicious sounding options. We were pretty hungry, so we ended up agreeing on two appetizers and an entrée each. I felt compelled to get the Mussamun Curry because it was a special and the description of the dish included a little blurb about how they’d been cooking it all day – this is always a good sign! Reed was feeling noodly and settled on a spicy flat noodle dish. It wasn’t until two seconds before the waitress came to our table that we flipped the menu over and SURPRISE – there is the Filipino menu, separate from the one we were looking at the whole time, which was actually just Thai stuff.

So, my brain was already set up for the curry, and Reed’s the noodles, but the Filipino menu really looked good. We didn’t get to try any of it, but the menu included Fish Sinigang (tilapia with tamarind and eggplant), a Banana Heart Curry, and a Jackfruit dish. Jackfruit, the menu explains, is a fruit that tastes artichoke-like when under ripe, and sweet when fully ripe. It can be used for dinner or dessert dishes. Cool! The last two dishes alone are worth getting simply because you cannot find them offered anywhere else in the ‘Burgh. It is my goal to return to Sweet Basil and try one of these dishes.

Now, you might be saying, ‘sure, they all SOUND good, but how do they taste?’ That is a good question, my friends! Well, the appetizers were good, but I think they tasted better than they actually were because we were so darned hungry to begin with. Honestly, the crust of the Crispy Curry Puff (a samosa-like potato pocket) was good but too dry. Hey, at least I got my 8 glasses of water in for the day though. The Steamed Dumplings were also good, but the skins were a little gummy. But I am being picky here. They were average fare.

The entrees are a whole ‘nuther story. The Mussamun curry was downright amazing. Having been cooked a long time, the chicken was totally penetrated with the flavorings of the curry sauce. Each chicken piece was worth savoring. The curry flavor was outstanding. Mussamun is a special curry, traditionally reserved for weddings and festivities like that (although a lot of places here serve it regularly). The flavor, in case you’ve never had it, is warm spices – clove, cinnamon, allspice, mace, etc. These are spices that go into a pumpkin pie, so if you like pumpkin pie spices, this dish will please you (note, I am not saying that this dish tastes anything like pumpkin pie itself). Their Mussamun curry is highly recommended if they are serving it.

Reed’s flat noodle dish is notable in that when he requested a spicyness level of 7, it was actually very spicy! That is awesome because a lot of places wait till you say 10 to make it spicy, and then they go overboard. So that was good. The noodles and veggies were good too, but I think Reed was a little disappointed with the dish overall. I thought it was tasty, but I preferred my curry dish (and was very happy to have gotten it).

One very notable aspect of Sweet Basil is that they serve BROWN RICE. Yes! I love brown rice and very few places actually offer it. For instance, Bangkok Balcony, just around the bend on Forbes, has wonderful curries but only white rice. Between the two, I might choose Sweet Basil for curries just because of the brown rice option (as the curries themselves are a close call).

And finally – dessert! We went all out and got a dessert each. Reed fancied a flan, which I am not a big fan of. They had an interesting dessert menu, and ultimately I chose the butternut squash custard figuring ‘what the hey’ cuz I love squash so much. I guess I thought it would be more like a squash pudding or pumpkin pie, but it actually was not at all like either. It was warm and spongy and soaked with a sweet sauce, and there was a lot of it. It was good for sure, but not what I was expecting. But if you like warm, spongy, soaked cakes (like the little dessert balls you get at an Indian place), you will like this custard a lot. Reed thought the Leche-Flan was very good and recommends it.

So that is it! I don’t consider this a complete review, since we never even got to the Filipino stuff, but that just means we have to go back again … at least three times so I can try all the things that sound so good!! I also want to try the Larryville location, as they apparently have a nice outdoor seating area, and I am all about that. In the meantime, if you’ve been and had the Filipino stuff, leave a comment, because I’d love to hear!

Mussamen Curry (if they have it)
Filipino dishes

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