43 Frairy St., Medfield
Hours: Tuesday-Thursday 5-9 p.m., Friday and Saturday 5-10 p.m., Sunday 5-8:30 p.m., closed Monday
Reservations for five or more
Major credit cards accepted
Function room for up to 35 people; catering
Basil is a comfortable, congenial restaurant that materializes like an apparition on a residential street near the center of Medfield. The building began as a house in the early 1900s but was transformed into a restaurant in the 1930s; its commercial use in a residential zone has been grandfathered ever since.
Owners Tom and Karen McGue grew up in Medfield and attended Medfield High together. Under Tom's picture in their yearbook it says: ``Ambition: to be the chef of my own restaurant." In 1999 Tom's dream came true when the couple purchased the former Francis Café.
Several small dining areas create a sense of intimacy and keep the noise level reasonable. Decor is simple and soothing: black cloth napkins on ivory tablecloths, neutral walls, and frosted-glass drop lamps over each table. We sat by a fireplace softly lighted by candles on a warm summer night. Outside our window was a neatly tended herb garden, which provides fresh herbs for the kitchen. A 120-gallon tank holding saltwater fish separates the dining area from a lounge that offers a pub menu.
The main menu features poultry, seafood, and meat, with a focus on Italian dishes. We were quickly provided with a basket of crisp, fresh bread to enjoy with butter or seasoned olive oil. Our waitress was personable and efficient, delivering drinks while we agonized over the menu, checking on us discreetly, and removing excess dishes promptly.
Mushrooms stuffed with Maine crab ($8) were large and meaty. French onion soup ($4 for a cup, $5 for a bowl) was a tangy beef broth, loaded with onions and topped with a satisfying layer of cheese. A small Caesar salad ($4.25) was adequate but didn't have enough parmesan to give it the expected zing.
Shrimp, veal, and chicken marsala ($19) solved the problem of which protein to include with one of my favorite sauces. The creamy marsala was a little sweeter than I expected, but it clung beautifully to the perfectly cooked linguine, and it was loaded with mushrooms and squares of prosciutto. Tender asparagus spears were a bonus. It was a large portion, providing enough for a satisfying lunch the next day.
Sirloin with shrimp ($27) featured two grilled jumbo shrimp atop a juicy filet cooked medium rare as ordered. It was accompanied by a mound of mashed potatoes with skins and fresh summer squash, broccoli, and asparagus, cooked tender crisp.
One of the things we liked about Basil's menu was the combination of meat, poultry, fish, and seafood in many entrees, such as fusilli with shrimp and chicken, lobster and shrimp ravioli, and veal and shrimp Lafayette. Among the most popular dishes, Karen McGue said later, is pan-seared haddock with scallops topped with a tarragon citrus cream sauce. With the exception of a few desserts, everything is made on site, she said.
The dessert menu offers a lot of choices for chocolate lovers, but we settled on a single slice of Key lime pie to share (desserts are $5.50-$6.50). It was cakey rather than creamy but delivered a powerful citrus kick, tempered by rosettes of whipped cream.
There is something comfortably old-fashioned about Basil. You can converse with your dining companion without shouting, you don't need a glossary to read the menu, and you'll probably go home with a doggie bag. In an era of martini bars and tapas joints, it's a pleasant reprieve.