Prawn and Basil
3316 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., T.O.
805-370-0071 or www.prawnandbasil.com
It’s described as Asian Fusion on Yelp, TripAdvisor emphasizes sushi and seafood, and the owners themselves call it New American cuisine. They’re all correct, because Prawn and Basil has a lot going on. And I’m happy to say, it’s all pretty darn good, too.
The bulk of dishes at this Thousand Oaks establishment are definitely Asian-inspired. But the very comprehensive menu also includes barbecued ribs and Argentinian steak, tacos and quesadillas and some burgers, too. As the name suggests, there’s a big emphasis on seafood. It’s not a melting pot, but a multicultural festival, where each cuisine is given a chance to shine.
The decor is simple and deliberately unfinished — partially white-washed brick walls, plain wood tables, accents of black and empty picture frames on the walls. Warehouse chic, perhaps? Two small dining rooms are connected by a central hallway, with one devoted to table dining and another dominated by the sushi bar. This is where we ultimately decided to set up camp: It’s always fun to watch a sushi chef work his or her magic.
We started with two of the house’s special rolls. The Snow White Roll (crab, shrimp, cucumber, avocado and lots of crunch) was delicious, and the crispy panko made a great contrast to the softer textures. The Black Dragon Roll (shrimp tempura, crab, avocado and eel) was rich and a bit sweet, thanks to the tangy eel sauce. Both rolls were expertly prepared with very fresh, flavorful ingredients.
Our server told me that the vegetable dumplings were made in-house, so I thought I’d give them a try. Maybe a bit too oily for my taste, but the flavors were good and it was nice to have something with that home-cooking feel about it. We also had shrimp skewers with peanut sauce: simple, but satisfying. Unlike many restaurants, where appetizer portions are big enough to eat as a meal, Prawn and Basil truly intends to whet rather than sate the appetite — a good thing when there are so many tasty options on the menu.
For entrees, we began with the drunken noodles. A very traditional Thai preparation with chicken and basil, it was deceptively simple. Not a powerhouse of flavors, but it seemed to get better the more we ate it.
The big flavor punch came from the signature dish, Prawn and Basil. It sounds like a Thai curry dish, but is actually Cajun-inspired, with a decent kick from pepper, cayenne and paprika. Shrimp is cooked in the shell with corn, potatoes and sausage in a spicy broth, all served in a piping-hot foil packet. It was wonderful and so different from the Asian-inspired fare that came before. Peeling the shrimp was fun but messy — consider ordering it with the shell off for a tidier meal.
We couldn’t resist the interesting dessert menu. While I was intrigued by the green tea cheesecake, we decided on a few classics: strawberry mochi, sticky rice with mango and coconut ice cream with panko-crusted fried bananas. There was no clear favorite: One person loved the mochi for the contrast between the custardy filling and somewhat chewy shell, while another gravitated toward the textured sticky rice. I have a love for fried bananas, so that was easily my top choice — although I’ve had better coconut ice cream.
What might have impressed me most about Prawn and Basil was its ability to offer so many different kinds of food with equal precision. Great sushi, great noodles, really good Cajun shrimp . . . I’m kicking myself now for not exploring more. The server told me that the soft-shell crab burger is one of the restaurant’s most popular dishes, and also gave high praise to the good old-fashioned burger. And I suspect the chef makes some good fish tacos. If you’ve got a group that can’t decide or varies wildly in palate, take them to Prawn and Basil. There’s something for everyone, and it’s all good.