The Basin is about simple pleasures

Basin on Urbanspoon

The Basin-2The Basin has long been Saratoga’s most enduringly popular dinner spot.

(Published by South Bay Accent in November, 2013.)

The high turnover rate among new restaurants could easily be avoided if more restaurateurs were like Andrew Welch. You’ll find no slapdash service, sketchy cuisine concept or edgy vibe at his popular dinner spot, The Basin, in downtown Saratoga. For 14 years, this popular eatery has had a singular focus: delivering what pleases guests rather than trying to cram some restaurateur’s personal vision down their throats.

 The Basin-3The restaurant is located on a corner in the upper village in Saratoga. 

Overseeing his cozy boîte most evenings as maitre d’, Welch makes sure service is friendly and attentive. In fact, young co-chef Steven Vu delivers food and charms guests as needed along with the pleasant wait staff. He told us how he used to dine at The Basin before attending culinary school and how he still loves some of the dishes he used to order back then. The decor in the small main room might be a tad dated but this is quickly forgotten in the face of such congenial treatment and tasty cuisine.

The latter evades strict categorization and instead seems crafted to please.  Loosely modern American with various European influences, the menu starts with a sizeable line-up of small plates — several in a Spanish tapas vein — then segues into a handful of interesting salads, followed by a dozen entrees. It’s telling that there are many favorite dishes at The Basin rather than the few that seem to reign at other places.

The Basin-paellaPaella Pequeña is a thoroughly satisfying starter.

One of the must-order choices among starters is paella pequeña, which gets a final stirring tableside and features generous amounts of shrimp, spicy bites of chorizo and terrific texture.  Or treat yourself with some incomparable slices of Spanish ham paired with fruity olive oil and bread. This Jamón Ibérico is the real deal from the famous black-hoofed hogs that feed on wild acorns.

The Basin-5One of many small plates is wild Gulf shrimp cooked with wine, lemon, butter, herbs, cream and with a touch of chile heat.

Then there’s the house-cured wild salmon with horseradish cream, or the smoked albacore cakes with cucumber relish, or the remarkable wild shrimp sauteed with wine, lemon, cream and a touch of arbole chile.

The Basin jambonSpain’s famous Iberian ham made from black-footed hogs that eat wild acorns is a popular starter at The Basin. 

Naturally, there’s caesar salad on the menu, since people everywhere love this dish.  The most unusual choice is ice “burger,” which is a semi-circle of iceberg lettuce draped with dressing and crumbled, cooked pancetta, with tiny mounds of blue cheese surrounding the lettuce.

The Basin-saladAn unusual salad is the ice “burger” that pumps up basic lettuce with dressing, pancetta and blue cheese.

As good as the starters are, it’s the main courses that carve food memories into the brain.  The Basin’s famous, pink-fleshed McFarland trout is miraculous, its moist meat contrasting with super-thin, crisp skin.  This sustainably farmed trout is grown in the far northeast of our state in super-cold waters and handily beats other trout varieties from a taste and health perspective.

The Basin-McFarland troutThe McFarland trout with its succulent pink flesh is perhaps the tastiest such trout anywhere.

“Exotic” mushroom rigatoni is everything pasta should be, with a riot of ‘shrooms, al dente pasta and deeply flavorful, buttery sauce. Breast and leg of duck is the stuff of dreams. The Canadian bird is brined for a day then roasted in the rendered fat from that exceptional Spanish ham on the starter list, with the result being luxurious, tender meat.

 The Basin-duckCompared to other duck confit versions, the bird here is cooked in rendered fat from the divine Spanish ham served as an appetizer at The Basin. 

There’s nothing more satisfying during fall’s cool weather than stick-to-the-ribs proteins such as brined, grilled, thick pork chops in an assertive dry rub or a killer New York steak grilled with manchego-thyme butter that is huge — clocking in at more than a pound — juicy and pleasurable.

 The Basin-NY steakA monstrous NY steak can top $50 but feeds an army. 

There are several more faves on the menu, with the deliciousness of the preparations coming with a dose of political correctness via a focus on organic produce, hormone-free meats and sustainable fresh seafood. However, The Basin doesn’t make a fuss about the provenance of its ingredients, preferring to let the food do the talking on the plate.

 The Basin- Andrew with local white seabassOwner Andrew Welch with an example of the sustainable seafood the restaurant offers. 

The people-pleasing theme continues into dessert, with too many pleasures calling out to diners who have likely over-indulged at this point.  Molten-center chocolate cake may be ubiquitous but who doesn’t love it?

The Basin-choc cakeMolten chocolate cake is popular everywhere, including this version served at The Basin.

Absolutely superb is warm bread pudding with rum, pecans and apricots that comes with ice cream.  Or order a mini apple pie for two topped with whipped cream.  A particular treat is chef Vu’s house-made ice creams in season flavors like maple with pancetta, a sweet-savory delight.

 The Basin bread puddingThe restaurant’s warm, layered bread pudding with pecans is excellent. 

Located on a quiet corner in the Saratoga village, The Basin has been perfectly crafted for this upscale community that contains some foodies as well as many residents who just want an enjoyable night out — ideally, without kids, which is one group the restaurant doesn’t cater to. Romance seekers head to the patio in the back that surrounds a huge old oak tree. With such attention to local needs, it’s no surprise that The Basin has long since become the dining mainstay in this restaurant-rich South Bay town.

 The BasinThe main dining room has a long bar at one end. 

The Basin, 14572 Big Basin Way, Saratoga; (408) 867-1906;

HOURS: Monday-Thursday, 5-10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 5-11 p.m.; Sunday, 5-9:30 p.m. Reservations  suggested.

PRICES: Small plates: $6-25; soups & salads: $11; entrees: $16-36; desserts: $9-10.





One response to “The Basin is about simple pleasures

  1. I love Iberian ham. I tried it for the first time this summer, in Barcelona. Everyone should have a bite of that! 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s