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Sweet Basil in Needham- awful

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Finally tried sweet Basil in Needham last night. Very noisy, very small, very crowded. Had to wait 1 hour although they said 20 minutes. A pleasant wait in comfortable chairs outside and the owner came out to chat with us. He was very nice.
The salads and appetizers were good. The main courses were terrible. Inedible.
We (2 couples) had ceasar salad, arugala with beets and goat cheese and fried calamari. These were all good as was the bread with pesto. however, the main courses were so bad they were almost inedible. My husband and another diner had the chicken cacciatore. My husband could not eat his at all and the other diner ate a few bites. I had the chicken marsala which was two thin very tough veal cutlets floating in a thick gross gravy tasting ever so slightly of marsala wine but mostly of gravy/ flour. A few measly portobello mushrooms on the plate. Really awful. Fourth diner said hers we "ok"- the evening special of monkfish. The presentation was terrible- big bowls of slop. Too bad- the salads and fried calamari were quite good.
Also, they charge $5 per bottle as a corkage fee- a silly charge in a cheap place, and do not take credit cards.All four of us agreed that we would not go back.
Goodbye Sweet Basil.

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  1. What was wrong with the chicken cacciatore that made it inedible, and also, are you saying you ordered chicken marsala, and got veal cutlet marsala? Did you bring any of this up with the nice owner?
    I'm asking because my sister wants to meet here when I visit her later this week.

    1. Correct me if I am wrong, but charging a corkage fee in Massachusetts is currently illegal.

      1. Their website does not list prices so I don't know what you mean by "a silly charge in a cheap place" but their website clearly states a $5 corkage will apply. I don't think $5 is unreasonable or that unusual - few enough places are allowed to BYOB.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Dax

          I think $5.00 corkage is very reasonable.

        2. Ooops sorry I did order veal marsala not chicken- the veal was tough.two cutlets- in a gloppy gravy. I didn;t try the chicken cacciatore because my husband said it was inedible and the other diner who had it said it was not good. I have never ever seen my husband not eat an entree. One bite and he stopped eating. My veal was not good but edible so since I ate it I said nothing. My husband never complains (passive agressive???).
          Re the corkage fee- there are many restaurants in Needham-Wellesley area (e/g/ Eurotaste, Jimmy's Yama) that are byob and do not charge a corkage fee.

          3 Replies
          1. re: emilief

            I'd send an email to the owner. The chicken cacciatore is my favorite dish. My sister orders trays of it to serve at parties. We both have the recipe and make it all the time. It must have been an off night.

            As for the corkage fee, Sweet Basil is one of the last around that is still BYOB since the law changed in Needham. I recall paying one in Rockport. And the cash only is a bummer, but there are ATMS right nearby.

            Send the owner an email outlining what made the dish inedible. There must have been something off and I'm sure they'll remedy the situation.

            1. re: emilief

              Your husband and the other diner ate only a few bites of the cacciatore and the waitstaff didn't notice/comment? That's pretty poor service on their part - they should at least ask if there is a problem when somebody obviously isn't eating any of his/her meal.

              1. re: Dax

                I find the service at Sweet Basil not to be at that level (I find one of the regular servers to be particularly easily frazzled). Plus, the portions are huge, so I imagine it's not all that unusual for large quantities to go uneaten.

            2. I thought it odd that they just picked up all that left over food off of the table and packed it up. I have the chicken cacciatore in a take out box in the fridge. if I get brave I will try it today and report to you all if I agree with the two diners who ordered it!!!

              1. I love Sweet Basil. Haven't been there in a year but I never had a bad meal, from appetizer to entree. I agree with the poster who said to send an email. Also, if I had waited an hour to be seated there, I would have sent back an inedible dish. You'll never go there again, but if you had to, I would stick to the shrimp scampi.

                1. If a restaurant near me charged only $5.00 for a corkage fee, I would be there most every night. This is not only reasonable, it is a bargain.

                  1. Corkage illegal? Never heard of that. Any pointers to that law?

                    I'll step up to the plate to say that I've had many a meal at Sweet Basil, including two Sundays ago. Still as good as ever. Ravioli, Seafood Fra Diavolo, and the beef Bolognese. Yum.

                    The owner, I think, only cooks like once per week these days, so maybe you got his off-kilter assistant.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: mchang

                      Corkage fees are not illegal. I think Doubleman was confusing the fact that BYOB is illegal in Boston (unless pending a liquor license)- Needham (and Wellesley?) have some kind of loophole...

                      1. re: Rubee

                        For an establishment that has a liquor license, my understanding is that under state law it is unlawful for any person other than a duly licensed distributor to carry alcoholic beverages into that establishment (Mass General Laws Ch 138).

                        For BYOB for restaurants without a license, there is no explicit state law that anyone has posted. This can be subject to local statutes which vary, with many municipalities explicitly prohibiting the practice. Restaurants may discourage the practice for liability or other reasons -- the laws treat responsibility of licensed establishments in drunk driving cases more explicitly. Massachussets has lots of other odd laws and statutes (happy hour, bowling alley statute, etc).

                        I am not a lawyer, so what I say is only to the best of my knowlege, but there are come incorrect statements in this thread. In any case -- if you really want to know, you need to check Ch138 and check with the local liquor licensing board to understand the situation in any particular town.

                    2. In reply to mchang, read this thread


                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Dax

                        Thanks. I didn't see anywhere in that thread that noted corkage fees were illegal. I understand that MA has some arcane liquor laws, but AFAIK, Sweet Basil does not have a liquor license.

                        I do agree that I have never seen the corkage fee listed anywhere at any restaurant I've eaten at.

                      2. It is a great restaurant.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: bostonjunkie

                          Apparently some disagree.

                          1. re: Blumie

                            Hello, I have been going to Sweet Basil's for years. I've never had a bad meal there. I'd recommend that you give it another shot. They have been Zagat rated as in the Top 40 for the Greater Boston area. Not too shabby!

                        2. I've had great meals at Sweet Basil -- if the food was really "inedible" you should have said something while you were there! For food that many of us find normally good, something must have been off to make it that bad.

                          As for the $5 corkage -- I think it is a GREAT deal -- or would you rather pay 100% markup that restaurants do (or more) when they sell you a bottle of wine. That being said, what do you think they mark up soda! $5 is a BARGIN. Think of the $5 going toward the buying of the wine glasses (which break) and paying someone to wash them. Those both cost a restaurant money.

                          1. Sounds like you have some sort of axe to grind or maybe a personal vendetta. I have eaten at Sweet Basil many times and know Dave , and i have never ,ever had a bad meal or even a bad appetizer. Maybe you and your husband don't like garlic!

                            Sweet Basil
                            942 Great Plain Ave, Needham, MA 02492

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: tiago

                              If the place is still there after four years from this post, maybe it was just an off night! :)

                              1. re: Bob Dobalina

                                I am a Needham resident, have eaten at Sweet Basil probably 20+ times since they opened and have no "ax to grind". When they first opened, I enjoyed their food and found it to be a welcome addition but I have since changed my opinion a bit. While not terrible, I find their food to be fresh and have decent flavoring but the menu and cooking is somewhat unimaginative. My main objection to their cooking is that they cook with way too much fat. I am all for butter and olive oil but if you take leftovers home and let it sit in the frig overnight, you will see what I mean...some serious coagulation going on. I still continue to go there on occasion but I am not as impressed as others.

                                Sweet Basil
                                942 Great Plain Ave, Needham, MA 02492

                            2. As they say Italian " Sausigge his own" ... I have been going to Sweet Basil's for years . The place is AWESOME and I would consider myself a " tough grader"

                              Sweet Basil
                              942 Great Plain Ave, Needham, MA 02492

                              1. I do like Sweet Basil quite a bit - it isn't haute cuisine, and doesn't pretend to be. I love the salad with baked gouda on it, and the calamari. The entrees can be hit or miss (though I haven't had anything truly inedible yet), and many are, as noted, slathered in butter, and portioned for a starved sumo wrestler. The BYOB makes it worth it, even when a particular entree isn't as awesome as one might have hoped.

                                Sweet Basil
                                942 Great Plain Ave, Needham, MA 02492

                                1. I'm also a big Sweet Basil fan, despite it's many quirks: generally good, although not great, hearty Italian cuisine, big portions, no desserts, no liquor license, no reservations, and bargain-priced completely LEGAL byob.

                                  Just get there early to avoid a line, bring your own fantastic wine, buy dessert at the gelato place across the street and enjoy it in the park. Sounds like a pretty good plan to me...

                                  Sweet Basil
                                  942 Great Plain Ave, Needham, MA 02492

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Tir_na_nOg

                                    A: The complaint was 4 years ago, and no one backed it up. Time to move on
                                    B: The gelato place across the street is now a Lizzy's Ice Cream