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

Categories: Restaurant News

singapore_salad.jpg
Phaedra Cook
Mixed bag: Half the items on this plate were great, especially that pretty Singapore Rojack Salad on the back right.
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.

straits_interior.jpg
Phaedra Cook
STRAITS is an undeniably beautiful establishment, with a jaw-droppingly large kitchen.
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.

lychee_martini.jpg
Phaedra Cook
I really wanted to love this lychee martini, but the sweetness became unbearable about halfway through.
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.

seafood_mousse.jpg
Phaedra Cook
There was a lot to love on this plate. In the foreground, Steamed Seafood Otah Mousse, topped with an oyster.
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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Straits Restaurant

800 W. Sam Houston Parkway N., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

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16 comments
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tinyhands
tinyhands

Why is it ok for every place in either Montrose or the Washington corridor to be a see-and-be-seen place with no parking, but this one can't? If Houstonians want to act like douches, they should be allowed to do it wherever they want, not just Montrose and the Washington corridor.

Brent Jatko
Brent Jatko

City Centre is the major demographic of Houston by virtue of the expansion of the Energy Corridor from Memorial Drive toward Katy. People who work in that industry prefer to live out there. Contrary to popular belief, everyone in Houston does not want to live, love, work & eat in the Heights. 

phaedracook
phaedracook

You can fault some of my own amateurish plating for some of that mess. The hospitality at this event was gracious and sincere, and it encouraged some people to come out who'd not been before.

But, it didn't let the restaurant really show what it can do with its food.

Corey
Corey

Duly noted, and in the end it's taste that matters.. I've eaten what appears to be gruel only to be suitably impressed once tasted. I guess the old don't judge a book by it's cover adage applies.  Kudos for the honesty.

Corey
Corey

Gives a new definition to **it on a stick, the claws look alright the rest is just a mess or at least to my untrained eyes..

big red
big red

Parking there has turned into a disaster, but at least you are not forced into using a valet service. Pay to park in a potholed parking lot, sure, but at least you can park your own car.

Matthew
Matthew

how is a place at i-10 and the beltway "city centre"? or for maximum cool spelling, "sittee syntre"

SirRon
SirRon

And Main Street is *never* the "main" "street" of  any city. What gives!?!

autumn
autumn

There are City Centres all over the country in different cities. I always just assumed it was some sort of brand name.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

I seem to recall the developers naming it that because the area is supposedly the demographic center of Houston.

Eric Henao
Eric Henao

With the building of the massive additional medical center there at the i-10 and gessner intersection, there is going to be massive additions to the area. Lots of people are going to be going to that area. Otherwise I'd just chalk up the name to creative liberty of the "kreative kunstruction kompany" that developed that area…

SirRon
SirRon

If you looked at a census map showing the Houston metro population, that would be near the center. Or so I've heard.

Matthew
Matthew

i've heard that too, but i can't find anything supporting it. i tried to look up population ceter of houston, but the closest i can find is from the 2000 census, and it's the population center of harris county. http://www.census.gov/geo/www/...it appears to be located near the intersection of 12th st. and ashland st. in the heights.

SirRon
SirRon

...gotta use houston metro area, not harris county. fwiw

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