There’s an old saying that goes “The third time’s a charm.” If that’s truly the case, Basilico, a recent addition to Hopewell’s growing dining scene, should lead a doubly charmed life. Basilico — Italian for “basil” — is the third restaurant to open at the 9B East Broad Street location, following in the footsteps of the eclectic comfort food of Bell and Whistle and, more recently, the Southern-influenced cuisine of SweetGrass.
And as it happens, Basilico is also the third restaurant outing for Princeton-born Joe Trani and his partner, Kari LaSpisa. Trani is also Basilico’s chef, and the menu at Basilico reflects Trani’s deep Italian roots, having spent three decades with his family in his native Ischia, five of those years studying hotel/restaurant management at IPSAR V. Telese, a polytechnic culinary school.
One thing that many former patrons of Bell and Whistle and SweetGrass hold near and dear is the memory of the distinctive structure that housed those eateries, and I’m happy to report that Trani and LaSpisa wisely chose to leave the venue essentially untouched. The impressive interior makes use of natural materials such as stone, brick, and wood, and the high, barrel-vaulted ceiling adds to the charming ambience.
In fact, even before you arrive at the door to Basilico, the approach, down the path beside Boro Bean, makes it feel as though you’re headed someplace special, slightly hidden from Hopewell’s main street. That feeling continued on the night of my visit, when my dining companions and I were warmly greeted at the door and shown to our table.
A series of colorful food-themed paintings in primary colors added a bright snap of visual interest along the west-facing wall of the 45-seat dining room, while a broad expanse of glass on the east-facing wall leads to additional fair weather dining on an attractive open patio.
Following a warm and friendly greeting, our server offered mineral or tap water and uncorked our wine. Excellent ciabatta rolls and herb-infused olive oil were brought to the table while we perused the menu. There were a variety of preparations in each of three categories — salads ($10 to $14), antipasti ($9 to $18), and entrees ($17 to $28) — as well as a special or two.
You’re sure to find a favorite among the arugula, kale, pear, fig, and caprese salads, each generous enough to share. The choice of antipasti includes familiar favorites such as bruschetta, fried calamari and polpetti (meatballs), as well as Trani’s Ischian-influenced offerings, like Bruschetta Ischia — toasted brick oven bread topped with creamy artichoke spread and melted Italian fontina cheese — and Mozzarella Ischia — slices of fresh mozzarella wrapped in prosciutto di Parma, pan seared, and topped with balsamic glaze.
The selection of entrees also runs the gamut, familiar to less so; Frutti de Mare and Penne Bolognese squarely in the former category, and dishes such as Ravioli Ischia — fresh jumbo cheese ravioli in a cherry tomato sauce with shrimp and zucchini — in the latter.
A selection of desserts, including tiramisu, chocolate lava cake, cannoli with chocolate chips, Nutella Poppers (Nutella-stuffed puff pastry), and a selection of excellent coffees and teas completed the picture.
If there’s a criticism to be made, it’s the same one that’s made about most restaurants these days. The noise level was high at the time of our visit, but, to be fair, there were two “party” parties enthusiastically celebrating special occasions. And the main dining room and patio were at near capacity, a pretty impressive turnout for a hazy, hot, and humid Tuesday night. Perhaps the third time really is a charm.
Basilico, 9B East Broad Street, Hopewell. Most major credit cards accepted. BYOB. Tuesday to Saturday, 4:30 to 10 p.m. Closed Sunday and Monday. 609-333-9900. www.basilicohopewell.com.