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Balboa Island’s Basilic celebrates 20 years of serving Swiss-French cuisine

On a recent afternoon, chef Bernard Althaus sat outside his Newport Beach restaurant, Basilic, wondering how two decades had passed so quickly.

His tiny Old World-esque establishment that serves Swiss-French cuisine on Balboa Island’s Marine Avenue is celebrating its 20th anniversary this month. To mark the milestone, the restaurant is bringing back some old favorites, such as saffron seafood soup, choucroute garnie (shredded cabbage with meat and potatoes) and grilled salmon with potato leek stew and pinot noir sauce.

The restaurant — despite its location among tourist-friendly food establishments — is primarily a locals spot, Althaus said.

Though its menu has changed over the years, little else has since Basilic opened in February 1997.

“Where did the time go? It felt like it was yesterday,” Althaus said.

Althaus and his wife, Arlette, who have been established in the United States for more than 25 years, are originally from Switzerland. Althaus, born in a hotel room atop a restaurant, comes from a restaurant family.

The couple first came to Newport for a wedding. Althaus and his family of four liked it enough that they planned to stay awhile.

The stay became permanent, and now the Althauses live in Costa Mesa. Their home in the Mesa North neighborhood is one key to the success of their restaurant. The backyard garden is full of plants they use for Basilic’s food, including thyme, lemons, figs, rosemary, pumpkins and tomatoes.

Walking into Basilic through its Dutch door is a cozy, intimate experience. It’s a family-run affair — Bernard cooks, Arlette helps at the front, their daughter, Melody, works part time as a waitress and their son, Loic, chips in too. The other day he filled in as a dishwasher.

The restaurant’s wooden walls give one the sense of being in a small European house. There are displays of the iconic Matterhorn mountain and a Monet bridge painting. The tables are covered with white cloths.

The opening was slow, Althaus recalled. It didn’t have a “big show.”

Basilic started serving lunch and dinner but then moved to dinner only because of Balboa Island’s difficult parking for the lunchtime crowd.

The restaurant’s name is French for basil, picked because the herb “was the one that was growing the easiest,” Althaus said. “We had it growing all over the backyard.”

When asked about the next 20 years, Althaus laughed. He said he’s getting old and will eventually need someone to take over. Until then, he said, he still likes the rush of a Saturday night when 40 people pack his tiny space and the kitchen is busy.

There are no expansion plans, he said.

“We started small,” Althaus said, “and stayed small.”

Basilic is at 217 Marine Ave. For more information, visit basilicrestaurant.com or call (949) 673-0570.

bradley.zint@latimes.com

Twitter: @BradleyZint


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