Clad in black T-shirts with Team Basi written on the back, the smiling staff at Basi Italia looked much too happy to be at work than people really should. Undoubtedly a major reason for that is because of their team captain, Chef Dornback, who's just Johnny to his employees.
You see, the talented Dornback is one of the friendliest chefs steering any top restaurant in Columbus today. Thus though his food is always serious, his mood usually is not, and that translates into unpretentious, delicious fun. Plus the guy does everything - cooks great, shakes cocktails, readjusts wobbly tables - with a big smile and an energy that are clearly contagious.
Of course, operating on one of the prettiest and most distinct patios in town doesn't hurt. Nestled amid a well-tended, lush green garden in residential Victorian Village, it's a comfy and cozy layout.
There's weighted two- and four-tops, a bar-stool-equipped, meet-and-greet communal table made with wine barrels, and a stone and wood bar backed by tasteful black-and-white foodie photographs beside chalkboards with specials listed in rainbow-flavored hues.
An underlit slanted awning covers a large part of this charming patio, and the overall muted color scheme - like baby blue, slate gray and pale green - smartly lets rich nature and the pleasant neighborhood do lots of the decorating.
But the cooking is all Basi. That means sexily plated dishes with bold but controlled flavors and strong nods to Italy and seasonality.
The potent perfumes of potted herbs scenting Basi's back porch drew me to a couple of timely warm-weather specials. Like Basi's excellent Gazpacho ($6), which was served in a generously volumed square white bowl. Its deep and rich tomato flavor was punctuated by raw summery crunches of finely diced yellow and green peppers, red onions and celery.
Basi's "Revisited" Caesar salad ($7) was robed in a toga of shaved pecorino and drizzled with a thick dressing that tasted lighter and more refreshing than it looked. The lively presentation included only romaine hearts, a pile of ungreasy (if also ungarlicky) croutons, blistered cherry tomatoes, white anchovies and capers.
An intriguing nightly Diver Scallop special ($23) positioned four big and luscious specimens above a peach coulis and around a fresh and crunchy slaw. The smooth, tangerine-tinted coulis was restrained in its fruitiness and had garlicky and spicy notes, like it might've been hopped up on Thai chili sauce; it served the scallops well.
As the evening dipped into nighttime, I noticed that the shallow round bowl with the scallops, carroty slaw and bright orange coulis kind of rhymed with the July sunset that was just then hovering around Basi's wonderful patio.
I sniffed the fragrant basil plants next to me, tuned into the dreamy Nick Drake song playing, and gazed at all the very nice wine deals being offered. In that moment, I understood why Basi's staff looked so damn happy.
For more local food news and reviews, click to G.A. Benton's blog Under the Table