One of the keys to opening a successful restaurant isn’t about giving people what they want. It’s about giving them what they didn’t know they wanted. And that’s exactly what the Ly family did when they opened Basil Asian Bistro in downtown Canton. “We all knew downtown Canton was not going to be an easy gig,” says General Manager Tony Ly. Their plan was to open an upscale Thai and sushi restaurant in a space that failed to support both a chophouse and an Italian eatery, and in a town that has a strong rapport with things smothered in gravy and cheese. Conventional wisdom was against them. Economic trends were against them. But what the Ly family had going for them was more than 25 years experience in elevating Northeast Ohio’s food landscape. “Our blood is in this business,” said Ly. And business is good. Always busy, word-of-mouth spreading like a cigarette fire, Basil has woven itself so deep into the fabric of downtown Canton it’s incongruous to think it’s been open for less than two months. Of course, this is old hat for a family that has done more to expose the area to new cuisine, new techniques, and new flavors than the Food Network. First with Ricky Ly’s, a cornerstone of Northeast Ohio cuisine for years, well before there was such a thing. And now with Basil. Tony Ly is only 23, but you’d never know it. Poised, earnest, engaging, he’s answering my questions, dealing with a vendor, running the floor, and receiving an order of coconut milk. All at once. The moment itself is microcosm for what makes Basil special. A restaurant that coolly and skillfully shatters expectations. “We’re as crazy as the next family of restaurateurs, but we’re humble,” he says. “That’s important.” During our conversation, Ly gets tired of talking about his family’s life work. He wants me to see it for myself. He disappears and returns five minutes later with a plate of Spicy Peanut Curry and a bottle of sake. Along with the Coconut Spaghetti, the Spicy Peanut Curry is one of their signature dishes. Crisp vegetables. A malty-sweet, subtle-spicy curry sauce. Coupled with a glass of ice-cold sake, you could be in any city. Any country, really. Basil Asian Bistro boasts a full bar and impressive wine and cocktail lists. But the sake selection, and their assortment of sake- based cocktails — garnished with bubbling, roiling dry ice — clearly holds a close place in Ly’s heart. I ask him which is his favorite brand of sake. “Oh, man,” he says. “That’s like asking a parent which child they love the most.” Basil’s patrons feel the same way about the sushi menu. For the more adventurous or discerning palates, the expansive sushi menu does not contain a single misstep. The more familiar rolls — California, Spicy Yellowtail, Unagi — are like gateway drugs. The House Rolls — the Basil Special, the Phoenix, the Volcano — are nothing short of culinary opioids. It’s true that Ohio is not synonymous with fresh seafood. That’s why Basil ships everything that goes into their sushi rolls directly from Japan. What separates ocean from table is a single phone call and one business day. And it’s that consistent dedication to high quality and precision that separates great sushi from good sushi from utter disaster. “We’re fast. It’s our style of cooking,” says Tony. “And we offer something fresh. Fresh seafood. It’s just a breath of fresh air.” And that is exactly what Basil is. A breath of fresh air. They took a kiss-of-death space and turned it into something amazing. For those who’ve experienced it firsthand, many can’t remember a time when anything other than Basil anchored the corner of Market and 6th. Canton is being revitalized as a destination worthy of the journey, and the Ly family is proud to be a part of that. What they have created is more than a place you bring a date when you want them to think you know what’s up; Basil Asian Bistro is a place you go as often as you can because you know exactly what’s up. Because the Ly family believes people will rise to the level you set for them. Because you’re just so tired of everything being so goddamn the same.