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Straits Restaurant, Palo Alto, pan-South Asian

JoelF | Nov 4, 200409:59 PM

The say travel is broadening, but it's also thickening. In the last 5 weeks, I've been on the road (airstrip, whatever) 17 days, and I've regained eight of the 20 pounds I lost since June -- not counting today's meals.

Tonight's belly-buster is Straits
3295 El Camino
Palo Alto, CA 94306
Also in San Francisco, and two in San Jose.

I'd asked the front desk to recommend something exotic, unusual, spicy, casual... well 3 out of 4 isn't bad. It was much more high-class than most SE asian restaurants I've eaten at, with entrees ranging from 10 (Olive Nasi Goreng) to 32 (Lobster Pad Thai). Though billed as Singaporean by the guy at the hotel, it's more pan-Asian, with an emphasis on the India-Indonesia spectrum.

For an appetizer I got Murtabak ($9.5 -- you can tell it's hoity-toity when they only show the significant digits), which is listed as "Roti prata filled with minced beef served with a curry dipping sauce." Knowing the paratha's I've had stuffed with meat, I expected a thin bit of ground meat in the bread. This was an inch-high grilled sandwich-like affair that could have been my meal. The meat was savory and rich, although the bread was kind of on the tough side. It was accompanied by a thin panang-like curry sauce, and sprigs of cilantro and pink-colored sweet pickled onions, which really perked up the flavors of this delicious but heavy appetizer.

Other choices for appetizer included Wok Roasted Mussels in a garlic pepper glaze, Ahi Tuna Tower, Foie Gras with spicy pineapple chutney (eewww -- that's not right) and Calamari with kaffir lime aioli and galangal chili sauce.

Main courses are divided into Beef/Lamb/Pork, Poultry, Seafood, Noodles, Vegetables and Nasi (rice). I had the Kari Kambing (sounds like one of the stars of the O.C.), $18, which is described as "Boneless lamb braised in a spicy dry curry rub with potatoes and carrots, baked with a flaky pastry shell served with indian spiced rice and acar sambal relish." I wish I had a camera. This was the best pot pie I've ever eaten (and I couldn't come close to finishing it after the appetizer). Rich pot-roasty flavors topped with something more like the roti than pastry (switch to low-gluten flour, folks -- you'll get a more-tender crust). Nice spice level. The rice is orange-flecked, and topped with carrots and pickles that were sweet and spicy in a way that reminded me of Korean panchan. I'm getting to appreciate the more stew-oriented SE-asian foods, it's like mom's potroast with an attitude.

Other interesting entrees included Nonya Daging Rendang, "Singapore spiced flat-iron steak with kaffir lime leaf sauce, sauteed pea sprouts, polenta and tomatoes"; Ikan Pangang "Salmon fillet wrapped in a banana leaf ahead pureed fresh chili, lemongrass, garlic and onion"; and Laksa Paella "Spiced coconut risotto of abalone, shrimp, scallops and sauteed seasonal vegetables"

Desert was out of the question, but accompanying faddish things like a molten chocolate cake were a pandan crepes with pineaple accompanied by coconut gelato, and various other tropical-fruit-based items.

I'd go there again, especially on the company dime.

[also posted to, a Chicago food discussion site]

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