Restaurant News

STRAITS: A Fine Dining Establishment or a Place to See and Be Seen?

The trendiness of CityCentre, where STRAITS is located, is becoming just about untenable. The first few times I visited, years ago, it seemed like the big multistory parking garage would be able to take care of all the visitors in perpetuity. When I visited last week for a media event, I drove all the way up to the top without finding a parking space. I was headed back down, resigned to going in search of a valet, when I just happened to get lucky and snagged a space after a lady pulled out. Still, it was a 15-minute endeavor. I'm glad I got there early.

So, I wandered out of the garage, past the movie theater and down the escalator. I hung a right and gazed at a directory for a bit before I realized that STRAITS was practically right behind me, next to Yard House.

From there, the experience was much happier and more relaxing. STRAITS has an enormous patio, and it's full of little cabanas outfitted with comfortable sofas and low tables. The inside of the restaurant is equally gorgeous, with a big private room shielded by romantic curtains and a few booths also outfitted for privacy.

This was an odd media event, though. I'm always on the lookout for signs that what is being presented is better than normal. In this case, I think the format of the event skewed the food presentation for the worse. Little bites were served from chafing dishes. I can't show you any pretty platings, because there weren't any, and it seemed like every other item I tried had some sort of issue. Still, here and there there were touches of brilliance, and I hope to go back and see what Chef Chris Xeo's Singapore-inspired food is like under normal conditions.

In the "brilliant" category was the Singapore Rojack Salad. Chunks of pineapple and mango were made more interesting with smaller chunks of jackfruit. A sweet and tangy tamarind dressing brought it all together. By itself, the jackfruit could have been overwhelming, but it was used with restraint and made the dish intriguing. This is a fruit salad I'd be happy to find on my lunch plate.

Also wonderful was the Mango Margarita. A light hand was used with the mango puree and orange liqueur, so the cocktail was refreshing, not cloying. A lively, sweet and salty chile rim brought much to the party. I can't say the same about a lovely Lychee Martini. It seemed fine at first, and I really appreciated the lychee garnish, but every sip seemed to get sweeter. By the time I gave up on it, I felt like I was drinking the juice from canned lychee instead of a cocktail.

There were some other winners. Braised duck buns sported the lightest steamed bun I've ever had. The Wok Fired Chili Crab Claws were quite a treat, and I could eat them like popcorn. The Steamed Seafood Otah Mousse was a total win. The creamy concoction was set off by a small fried oyster, and the whole thing was genius.

But then there were many losers in the bunch, too. The Bali Lamb Satay was depressingly sweet and dry. The grape leaf-wrapped ground beef "logs" were oddly compelling, but I can't truthfully say they were good. They were snackable, I suppose. The fish on the Grouper Ikan Pagang was very overcooked. I took one bite and skipped the rest.

At this point, I thought to myself that if this was an event where STRAITS wanted to show its best work, it wasn't hitting the goal. Was it that the food had sat in chafing dishes too long? Is the inconsistency that I observed at this event the norm?

I think there is potential for this place to devolve into a swanky hangout where over- and underdressed folks hang out and eye each other, cocktail in hand. Food could become an afterthought if the integrity of the cuisine is not carefully watched over. Already, there are commenters on other Web sites who have indicated that if one really wants Singaporean cuisine, there are other places in Houston where you can get the real deal for much cheaper.

On the other hand, if inspired dishes like the Singapore Rojak Salad keep rolling out of the kitchen, STRAITS may yet make a name for itself as a good place to eat. Only time, and more visits under normal conditions, will tell the rest of the story.

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Phaedra Cook
Contact: Phaedra Cook