It’s also a cross-cultural experiment, trying to promote better integration of, and communication between, groups in Crown Heights that haven’t always mingled much or seen eye to eye. Although its food and wine are strictly kosher, Basil isn’t located on what is known as the Jewish side of Eastern Parkway, the neighborhood’s main thoroughfare and dividing line. It’s on the West Indian side and, with its deliberately diverse staff, courts the black residents there. The trendy menu of individual-size pizzas, raw-fish compositions and pasta dishes is also meant to appeal to them — and to the young, liberal-minded professionals who, in slowly growing numbers, are choosing Crown Heights as a cheaper alternative to the Williamsburg or Prospect Heights sections of Brooklyn. Basil wants everyone under one roof.
And since its opening in March, it has stirred strong feelings, illustrating how restaurants can wind up being so much bigger than themselves. Many of them mirror — and a few even mold — the communities around them. When Odeon opened in TriBeCa in 1980, for example, it signaled and spurred the flowering of an untended, overlooked neighborhood. The closing in 2008 of the restaurant Florent, the darling of so many outrageous outsiders, provided as tidy and compelling a signal as any that Manhattan’s meatpacking district had lost its edge and joined the mainstream.
What might Basil mean? Perez, who was hired in part to symbolize this kosher restaurant’s openness to people of all faiths and stripes, would like it to stand as a testament to the possibility of interfaith and interracial communion. “We’re breaking big barriers here,” she told me during one of our many conversations, “and I didn’t think it could happen.”