Sweet Basil has always been a personal favorite of mine. I have many memories of birthday parties, special occasions, and family dinners that took place at this cozy Italian eatery on north Woodlawn. After suffering a major fire in early 2014, we had to wait over a year for Sweet Basil to make its comeback. This popular Wichita restaurant has been around since 1991, but our most recent dinner visit felt like we had walked into a whole new restaurant. Technically speaking we had. It took longer than expected for Sweet Basil to renovate, but finally in April they opened their doors to anxious regulars looking for their fix of Italian inspired offerings.
The interior of the original Sweet Basil was dated and at times cramped. Gone are the mirrored walls and confined seating and in place is an open floor plan, with a full bar and a slick modern motif. The dining room seats about the same amount as before, but additional space has been carved out for waiting, which was a nice addition. Soft lighting and a lack of windows allow the restaurant to keep some of the original’s romantic and intimate feel, which made it a popular date night destination.
The menu remains mostly unchanged and features a well balanced variety of mainly Italianesque dishes including lasagna, manicotti, eggplant parmesan, and linguine with clams. There is also a good selection of traditional steak, chicken, and seafood options, as well as a burger, soups, salads, and even a stir fry dish.
On our visit we started out with an order of fried calamari, which proved to be rather impressive for Kansas seafood standards. Unlike the typical small rings of chewy calamari, Sweet Basil’s version used thick cut strips that were surprisingly tender. Our three year old son even approved of the dish, devouring his portion with an ample amount of cocktail sauce. The only complaint I had, was that the menu states a pepper aioli is supposed to come with the appetizer, but we did not receive it. For our dinner entrees we ordered the Italian Combo, the Grilled Mediterranean Chicken with Relish, and the children’s portion of linguini and meat sauce . The Italian Combo featured a small portion of lasagna, chicken alfredo, and linguine with sausage and tomato sauce. The lasagna was excellent, stuffed with rich ricotta cheese and a flavorful tomato sauce. While I prefer my pasta and sauce to be tossed together before service, the linguine and sausage with tomato sauce was good. Mainly because of the simple traditional sauce which relied upon tender chunks of tomato and ample salt to enhance the pasta and sausage. The chicken alfredo was somewhat of a disappointment as the chicken was quite overcooked and not even the creamy alfredo sauce could help it out. The Mediterranean chicken was a good entrée for those looking for something a bit lighter. Two decent portions of chicken breast were topped with a pepper and parsley relish that had subtle sweet and tangy flavor. The dish also came with a serving of linguine with tomato sauce and chef’s vegetables, which is a fancy way to say old school steamed vegetables. Our son enjoyed his pasta, although most of it was taken home as he had filled himself up on calamari and bread.
Both of our entrees came with a house salad and parmesan toast. Unfortunately the basic garden salad is not quite on par with what used to be a very good house salad at Sweet Basil. It appears that an upgrade of $1.95 is needed to enjoy the salad that comes with pepperoncini, pepperoni, cheese, and olives that many will remember from the old days. The parmesan toast, with its crunchy layer of herbed cheese, is as good as always. Nearly every entrée at Sweet Basil comes with a salad and bread making the meal a reasonable value for the price.
It is nice to see Sweet Basil back in operation with an updated decor. I was hoping that some new dishes would have been added to the menu, but if it ain’t broke don’t fix it I guess. Sweet Basil still remains a good Italian option in Wichita, although a few more visits will be needed to determine how consistent the food quality will be.