There we were, looking at what appeared to be eyes staring back at us in a faintly orangish sauce. "It's messy," my dining companion promised, "But it's good."
Actually, the "eyes" were halved boiled eggs, their deep yellow yolks in stark contrast to the coconut milk-flavored sauce that surrounded them in a dish called Singaporean shrimp laksa noodles soup ($10) . We were eating at Straits, the just-opened "Modern Singaporean Restaurant and Lounge" in the ever more bustling CityCentre near the intersection of I-10 and Sam Houston Tollway. And my dining companion was reliving the two months he lived in Singapore and the Laksa soup he ate often with other students on limited budgets.
Oh and the Laksa was messy; no way around that. Trying to split the dish and get the noodles out of the bowl without pouring out all the broth was kind of tricky. There were a few shrimp floating around in there as well in what turned out to be a filling and delicious dish.
The Straits at CityCentre is the first expansion into Texas of the restaurant started in San Francisco by Chris Yeo, a hairdresser who missed the food of his native Singapore and put down his scissors to open what became a small chain of restaurants in California, Atlanta and now here. Opened this October, the restaurant offers a full wine and cocktail list, as well as food that's clearly been influenced by a number of cuisines, among them: Thai, Indian, Chinese, Malay and Indonesian.
Sitting at a table on the outside patio, we started with the murtabak ($10) which is a roti prata (crisp griddled Indian flatbread) filled with spiced beef with a curry dip on the side. The curry sauce wasn't especially spicy; most of the fire came from the beef without being overpowering. Think chopped barbecue, but with different ways of getting to hot. It was delicious; it would be easy to order a couple rounds of those and call it a day.
Next up, we split a roti john sandwich ($10), which our waitress told us was a customer favorite. It was easy to understand why. We opted for the braised beef as opposed to the chicken (hey, we're Texan), and again it was a nice mixture of interesting spices without killing us. What makes the sandwich special, though, was the wonderful bread they used, crispy on the outside and moist inside -- along with the onion and tomato it all crunched together nicely. The fries didn't seem too Singaporean, but they were tasty and surely a comfort to less adventurous souls.
Besides the aforementioned laksa, we delved into the chow kway teo ($14), or wok fired rice noodles. The spicy egg noodles, shrimp, Chinese sausage and bean sprouts blended together fairly well, although there were some occasional bland and then hot spots. There's a lot of food in this dish; fortunately it reheated well later in the microwave, maybe mixing it up more made it better.
Straits is another one of those new restaurants in CityCentre that have really opened up the dining experience on the west side of town. We really had only two bones to pick with it: tiny water glasses that had the wait staff running throughout the meal, and their dessert menu.
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After this great meal, we were more than ready to try a Singaporean dessert. But when our waitress could only offer us fudge cake, lollipop cheesecake, tres leches cake and an assortment of sorbet, we decided to hit the road.
All in all, though, the service is good, the food is different and delicious, and the prices are moderate -- though a bit higher than the prices back in the home country. And think of all you're saving on airfare.