MG got rave reviews of Tomato & Basil from her relatives. It’s located in an area of Black Rock Turnpike that is littered with strip malls, all of which have small restaurants. We were on our way to a show at Fairfield University and decided that Tomato & Basil would be a good option. If it was crowded and we were in a rush, we would be able to find another eatery pretty quickly.
Tomato & Basil is one floor. There are about ten tables and seating at a long bar. I believe their maximum seating capacity is sixty. We were lucky and a table for two opened up immediately.
MG got a Very Berry Tini ($11.00) from their drink menu. It seems that all their specialty drinks are made with vodka. There was nothing with rum, tequila, or anything else for that matter, just vodka. Weird. It was not like they did not have a stocked bar. The had various rums, whiskeys, and tequilas on the drink menu, but none of the specialty drinks were made with anything but vodka.
I got what the waiter described as a dark wheat beer ($7.50). It was nice, but note the picture. Isn’t it traditional for the waiter to pour your first draw and leave the bottle? Am I just being elitist (I’m looking at you Massachusetts)?
Which brings me to another point. After MG & I had ordered, she pointed out the specials board to me. It is written on a chalkboard at the back of the restaurant. The waiter never told us that any specials were available, nor did he tell us about any of them. That is definitely a violation of general protocol. I’m not suggesting our service was bad or that our waiter was rude. He was pleasant and prompt. After serving us our appetizer and entrees, he checked in to see if we were enjoying our meal. He was attentive. He did not rush us to clear the table. Everything was fine, but the non-pour of beer and the lack of reading the specials does stick out in my mind.
The complimentary bread is nice, but I still wish they served it with butter instead of oil. The bread itself was OK, but something about oil on bread (not toast, bread) just seems off. I know I may be bucking tradition, but I think oil on bread just tastes greasy.
MG & I shared a White Bean Bruchetta ($8.99) for an appetizer. I am not a fan of traditional bruscetta. I don’t care how you dress it up, it’s tomato on bread. Granted, this dish at its core is beans and tomato on bread, but it was a bit more interesting. They also placed a thin slice of cheese on top. I think it was romano. With the accompanying spices, it adds an interesting flavor. The beans were fresh and tasty, as was the bread. I really enjoyed the fact that the bread was lightly toasted on each side, not cooked to the consistency of melba toast and awash in oil and garlic. Here’s a closer look:
MG summed up the dish succinctly, saying it was “clean”.
MG went with her staple dish at Italian restaurants, Penne ala Vodka ($13.99) with Chicken ($2.99). I did not try the pasta itself, but the chicken was very, very good. I was impressed with the cooking and flavoring. It was not stringy. The texture was very light. There were grill char marks and a slight taste from the carmelization that melded nicely with the creaminess of the sauce. Big thumbs up. Should I return to Tomato & Basil, I’ll be trying a chicken dish. It came in a cauldron, a sizable portion that will fill up the heartiest of diners.
I decided to try the Baked Ziti ($13.99) with Meatballs ($2.99). I was not wanting for cheese. Between the mozzarella on top and the ricotta inside, there was plenty to spare. The sauce is tasty, but not exceptional. It was not watery nor overly acidic. It was slightly skewed to the sweeter side, but not quite sweet enough to give the dish a distinct note. The meatballs are nice. They are fresh and tasty, and I think they are mostly beef. I didn’t really taste much of a blend (if any). Not exceptional, nor disappointing, they are not the stuff of dreams. It was a nice dish, but unless you are really in the mood for ziti or meatballs, skip this one and go for something with chicken.
Tomato & Basil is a nice little spot. Their menu is mostly Italian classics, so I believe they could do with branching out to some more interesting dishes. Something a bit more distinct would set them apart and make them worth checking out again. Without that, nothing is compelling me to return anytime soon, but I wouldn’t complain if I was with a group that suggested it for dinner.
Tomato & Basil
1876 Black Rock Turnpike
Fairfield, CT 06825