Three-Way Thai

Sweet Basil’s attentive preparations, attractive presentations and extraordinary duck make it a truly fine experience.


Published:

Duck tamarind is served with
tamarind garlic pepper sauce.
Photographs by Thom Thompson
www.thomthompson.com


Today you can find restaurants that feature just about every distinct culinary culture, from Latin American to east Asian—with plenty of Indian in between—without leaving Delaware.

Indeed, you wouldn’t even have to leave Elsmere. It’s practically a little United Nations, with every kind of food, from Mexican and Peruvian to Korean and Japanese, represented on the main drag.

Yet amid this culinary diversity, the cuisine of one country is nearly absent. Though Thai restaurants abound in most American cities, the cuisine is hard to find in Delaware.

It’s not that Thai is utterly absent. If all you crave is pad Thai or a basic curry, you often can find it at the pan-Asian restaurants scattered around New Castle County. But for many years the only true Thai restaurant in northern Delaware is Bangkok House on Union Street in Wilmington.

Sweet Basil isn’t in Delaware, strictly speaking, but it is on U.S. 202 south of U.S. 1, which places it close enough to count. It’s situated in a modest strip mall called Concord Plaza. It’s easy to miss—if you drive past the beer distributorship where the lanes divide, you’ve gone too far.

The undistinguished digs are right in line with the ethnic restaurant ethos, but take one step inside the door and you’ll see that Sweet Basil’s class quotient far exceeds the norm.

Though the background is dominated by bare tabletops, charcoal black in striking contrast with the aqua and light earth tones of the rug and room, the eye is drawn to a single orchid at the maitre d’s station, where it produces an air of Japanese-influenced reserve that announces the strip-mall site will not intrude on the atmosphere inside.


Chocolate lava cake is served with vanilla ice cream
and a chocolate basil leaf.

For an ethnic restaurant, these are uncommonly sophisticated surroundings. Let’s face it: Avid taste-bud travelers, in search of the most exotic dollops, overlook—occasionally even embrace—the basest surroundings. For some explorers, it seems the more meager the decor, the more authentic the experience.

Sweet Basil turns that idea on its head. The 75-seat restaurant has an eye-catching dining area—and the cooking shines. The offerings are mostly basics, but the attentive preparations are elevated by the kitchen’s eye for presentation. Combined with the atmosphere and the moderate prices—only special entrées top $16—this is a perfect spot for a weeknight meal or a weekend date.

None of this would matter, of course, if the food didn’t deliver on the promise of the setting. If you’re a recent transplant from a larger city, I don’t want you to be misled. The menu at Sweet Basil is pretty close to Thai 101. But the food we tasted got a lot more care and attention than it would at most eateries of any type.

Even in a market where Thai food is nearly unknown, Sweet Basil is non-threatening. Many dishes are not so much Thai as pan-Asian, which should appeal to the Delaware diners who frequent restaurants such as Jasmine, Pan Tai and Potstickers.

Anyone who enjoys Vietnamese cooking will feel at home with the lemongrass soup, which delivered a red-tinged broth brimming with shrimp and packing a medium-firm red-pepper kick. Salads featuring minced pork or chicken with minty herbs, or sliced beef with sesame oil, displayed a Thai touch in the mix of seasonings, along with the typically feather-light rice vinegar dressing that make Thai salads feel weightless on the tongue.


Waiter Somsak Ketchat is better known to regulars as Guy.

Sweet Basil’s spring rolls were unique. Though they were as thick as any heavy-armored egg roll from a Chinese takeout, they were cooked perfectly all the way through. The skins were thin and lightly browned, and the vegetables inside were vibrantly fresh and just as crisp as the wrapper. The same was true of steamed dumplings. The skins were thinner than most, with just the right degree of chewy to offset the snappy veggies. Satay, made with either chicken or beef, should please the more timid customers. Fish cakes, seductively mild and aromatic, might be criticized by the pickiest for a texture that was just a touch rubbery.

The best dishes were those such as the coconut milk soup, which registered as a rich, sweet, hot, just barely tart concoction—a foreshadowing of the complexity we found in the green curry and tamarind curry.

Should none of these attributes entice you, Sweet Basil has an ace in the hole: anything on the menu that says crispy duck. I had it with a tamarind-flavored Panang curry sauce, which got supporting billing on the menu, but it faded into the background against the thrill of finding a kitchen that actually achieves crispness with a bird that in too many restaurants comes ensconced in soggy, flabby skin with a rubbery underside. Most chefs don’t seem to want to fool with the fine balance of heat and proximity required to render the fat without scorching the skin. They should taste this magnificent fowl to learn what they—and we—are missing.

The service at Sweet Basil might unsettle you. Waiters tend to disappear, only to materialize suddenly. If you’re bringing your own libations, you might want to tote along your own means of breaking into the bottles.


Executive chef Nantana Ovathasarn (left)
and owner Paul Lauprasert.

Yes, like so many new Pennsylvania restaurants, Sweet Basil is BYO. That represents a significant savings for customers, but in this case it also raises the age-old question of what wine to drink with Thai food, which can feature mild sweetness and intense saltiness, in addition to varying levels of hot-pepper spiciness. The answers come in two categories: arguments about which wine best spans the cuisine’s wide range, and suggestions that beer is actually a better choice.

Those who prefer wine agree that something tart but fruity with a touch of sweetness is the best bet, with consensus falling on German Reisling. Opinion is split over Gewurtztraminer, but I’ve always found the Alsatian version, with its bold fruit and spicy overtones, a good match, provided the heat of the food doesn’t get out of hand. Reds are dicey—anything tannic will taste dull and sour—but chilled dry roses are not a bad option.

If you’re apt to order fiery dishes, beer might be the best match, but many Thai seasonings are as aromatic as they are fiery. The same light lager that helps tame the heat of curry sauces won’t do justice to anything much subtler. Some swear that wheat beer, with its sharply bitter edge, is the best way to go.

I can’t swear by any of them—yet. I’ll get back to you once I try each one with the crispy duck. Twice.

Sweet Basil
275 Wilminton-West Chester Pike (U.S. 202) C
hadds Ford, Pa.
(610) 358-4015
Prices:
Entrées $11.95 to $25.95
appetizers and salads $4.95 to $14.95
desserts $4.95 to $7

Recommended dishes Sliced beef salad, minced chicken salad, coconut milk soup, anything that says “crispy duck”

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Cost: free

Where:
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More information

THE FIGURE: THE INDICATIVE AND THE ALLUSIVE Group Exhibition  April 1 - August 26, 2018 Opening Reception: Friday, April 6, 2018 | 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop with Panel Discussion: 6 - 7 PM...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Telephone: 302-656-6466
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GUARDIANS OF THE IMAGE MAKER Group Exhibition & Programs Commemorating The 1968 Riots April 6 - June 29, 2018 Opening reception: Friday, April 6, 2018                      5 - 9 PM...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Telephone: 302-656-6466
Website »

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A needle's eye in a pond, a Greek temple in the garden, an Ottoman tent sitting on a hill—these are just a few of the inspirations for our upcoming, first-ever outdoor exhibition Follies:...

Cost: Included with general admission ($5-20)

Where:
Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
5105 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
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Sponsor: Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
Telephone: 800.448.3883
Contact Name: Information and Tours
Website »

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A newly acquired cabinet at Winterthur and related objects in the collection emerge as tools in the lucrative business of transatlantic trade in the 18th and 19th centuries. Curated by graduate...

Cost: free with admission

Where:
Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
5105 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
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Telephone: 800-448-3883
Contact Name: Information and Tours
Website »

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Story Time Thursdays 10:30 - 11 a.m. Enjoy fun animal stories read by our own zoo story-telling team! Story time takes place in the otter circle, in the main zoo, and may include a craft,...

Cost: $7 - $0

Where:
Brandywine Zoo
1001 North Park Drive
Wilmington, DE  19802
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Telephone: 302-571-7747
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Charity Golf Event to benefit Children's Beach House A great way to start your Memorial Day weekend a day early! Make sure to register as a single golfer or register your foursome ahead of...

Cost: $225 Single Golfer / $900 Foursome

Where:
Peninsula on Indian River Bay
26937 Bay Farm Rd.
Millsboro, DE  19966
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Sponsor: The Ocean Atlantic Companies
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Crooked Hammock Brewery is celebrating the unofficial start of summer all Memorial Day weekend! The festivities kick off on Thursday, May 24th with the release of their two summer seasonal beers,...

Cost: Free to attend

Where:
Crooked Hammock Brewery
36707 Crooked Hammock Way
Lewes, DE  19958
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Sponsor: Crooked Hammock Brewery
Telephone: 302-644-7837
Contact Name: Jon
Website »

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Join us on The Patio, voted Best Outdoor Dining by Delaware Today readers! Happy hour 4PM - 6:30PM, live entertainment 6PM - 9PM, local craft beer, handcrafted cocktails, creative gastropub menu,...

Cost: menu items vary

Where:
Hilton Christiana
100 Continental Dr.
Newark, DE  19713
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Relax and unwind after a long day with the Museum’s popular Happy Hour series. Enjoy live music on the terrace with friends or tour the galleries indoors. Special themed nights will be scheduled...

Cost: Museum galleries are open with free admission every Thursday from 4–8 pm

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
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  Join Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant as they open their doors to the public on May 24, 2018!  

Cost: Free

Where:
Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant
19815 Coastal Hwy
Rehoboth Beach, DE  19971
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Sponsor: Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant

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Alexi Natchev: Prints and Drawings will be on view in the Mezzanine Gallery from May 4-25, 2018. A free opening reception to meet the artist will be held on Friday, May 4 from 5-7 p.m. Alexi...

Cost: Free

Where:
Mezzanine Gallery
2nd Floor, Carvel State Office Building
820 N. French St.
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Sponsor: Delaware Division of the Arts
Telephone: 302-577-8283
Contact Name: Roxanne Stanulis
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Mary Pritchard is an award winning pastel artist from Chestertown, Maryland. Following a career in education administration at the University of Delaware, Mary returned to painting full-time....

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
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Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

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Mary Pritchard is an award winning pastel artist from Chestertown, Maryland. Following a career in education administration at the University of Delaware, Mary returned to painting full-time....

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
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Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

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Mary Pritchard is an award winning pastel artist from Chestertown, Maryland. Following a career in education administration at the University of Delaware, Mary returned to painting full-time....

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
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Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

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GUARDIANS OF THE IMAGE MAKER Group Exhibition & Programs Commemorating The 1968 Riots April 6 - June 29, 2018 Opening reception: Friday, April 6, 2018                      5 - 9 PM...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 302-656-6466
Website »

More information

THE FIGURE: THE INDICATIVE AND THE ALLUSIVE Group Exhibition  April 1 - August 26, 2018 Opening Reception: Friday, April 6, 2018 | 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop with Panel Discussion: 6 - 7 PM...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 302-656-6466
Website »

More information

A newly acquired cabinet at Winterthur and related objects in the collection emerge as tools in the lucrative business of transatlantic trade in the 18th and 19th centuries. Curated by graduate...

Cost: free with admission

Where:
Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
5105 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 800-448-3883
Contact Name: Information and Tours
Website »

More information

A needle's eye in a pond, a Greek temple in the garden, an Ottoman tent sitting on a hill—these are just a few of the inspirations for our upcoming, first-ever outdoor exhibition Follies:...

Cost: Included with general admission ($5-20)

Where:
Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
5105 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
View map »


Sponsor: Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
Telephone: 800.448.3883
Contact Name: Information and Tours
Website »

More information

Glory of Stories introduces young visitors to art and the Museum through a story reading followed by an interactive tour of relevant works of art and a studio art project. This program encourages...

Cost: Free to Members, $5 per child and one adult free for Non-Members

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
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Crooked Hammock Brewery is celebrating the unofficial start of summer all Memorial Day weekend! The festivities kick off on Thursday, May 24th with the release of their two summer seasonal beers,...

Cost: Free to attend

Where:
Crooked Hammock Brewery
36707 Crooked Hammock Way
Lewes, DE  19958
View map »


Sponsor: Crooked Hammock Brewery
Telephone: 302-644-7837
Contact Name: Jon
Website »

More information

  Join Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant as they open their doors to the public on May 24, 2018!  

Cost: Free

Where:
Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant
19815 Coastal Hwy
Rehoboth Beach, DE  19971
View map »


Sponsor: Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant

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Meeting every Friday, Bayhealth Kent General Hospital, 640 s. State Street, Dover, 7:30 pm., Private Dining Room #3 in the basement. For those who have, or think they may have a gambling problem....

Cost: 0.00

Where:
Bayhealth Kent General Hospital
640 S. State Street
Private Dining Room #3
Dover, DE  19901
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Telephone: 800-855-2CALLGA
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Sixth annual St. Catherine of Siena Community Garage Sale held in Church parking lot. One-stop shopping! Approximately 25 homes gather in one location to make your garage sale shopping...

Cost: $25/Consignors ONLY

Where:
St. Catherine of Siena Parish Parking Lot
2503 Centerville Road
Wilmington, DE  19808
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Sponsor: St. Catherine of Siena
Telephone: 302-239-1699
Contact Name: Mary Gispert
Website »

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The 11th annual Artisans Fair, featuring unique handcrafted art objects, will be from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, May 26, at Lord Baltimore Elementary School on Route 26 in Ocean View, DE. ...

Cost: Free

Where:
Lord Baltimore Elementary School
Route 26
Ocean View, DE  19970
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Sponsor: South Coastal DE AARP Chapter
Telephone: 302-732-6336
Contact Name: Ida Crist
Website »

More information

A needle's eye in a pond, a Greek temple in the garden, an Ottoman tent sitting on a hill—these are just a few of the inspirations for our upcoming, first-ever outdoor exhibition Follies:...

Cost: Included with general admission ($5-20)

Where:
Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
5105 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
View map »


Sponsor: Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
Telephone: 800.448.3883
Contact Name: Information and Tours
Website »

More information

GUARDIANS OF THE IMAGE MAKER Group Exhibition & Programs Commemorating The 1968 Riots April 6 - June 29, 2018 Opening reception: Friday, April 6, 2018                      5 - 9 PM...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 302-656-6466
Website »

More information

THE FIGURE: THE INDICATIVE AND THE ALLUSIVE Group Exhibition  April 1 - August 26, 2018 Opening Reception: Friday, April 6, 2018 | 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop with Panel Discussion: 6 - 7 PM...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 302-656-6466
Website »

More information

A newly acquired cabinet at Winterthur and related objects in the collection emerge as tools in the lucrative business of transatlantic trade in the 18th and 19th centuries. Curated by graduate...

Cost: free with admission

Where:
Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
5105 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 800-448-3883
Contact Name: Information and Tours
Website »

More information

Crooked Hammock Brewery is celebrating the unofficial start of summer all Memorial Day weekend! The festivities kick off on Thursday, May 24th with the release of their two summer seasonal beers,...

Cost: Free to attend

Where:
Crooked Hammock Brewery
36707 Crooked Hammock Way
Lewes, DE  19958
View map »


Sponsor: Crooked Hammock Brewery
Telephone: 302-644-7837
Contact Name: Jon
Website »

More information

Science Saturday – River Rangers River Rangers learn how to gauge the health of our local waterways by observing the variety of critters living in it. Visitors of all ages are invited to...

Cost: Activities are included in regular admission and free for members.

Where:
Hagley Museum
201 Hagley Creek Road
Wilmington, DE
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Sponsor: Hagley Museum & Library
Telephone: (302) 65802400 x 238
Contact Name: Jessica Eisenbrey
Website »

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