Streat struggles to execute a broad menu but still hits some sweet spots
Reviewed by Virginia B. Wood, Fri., Nov. 12, 2010
Streat3211 Red River, 628-0288
Monday-Friday, 7am-9pm; Saturday, 9am-9pm; Sunday, 9am-3pm; happy hour, Monday-Saturday, 4-7pm
One of my favorite bites of 2009 was a voluptuous Thai curry carrot soup served at last November's Empty Bowl Project by a restaurant I'd never heard of. When I learned that Mirabelle owner Michael Vilim and Louisianan chef Happy Abdelbaki planned to open an international street food restaurant with a menu including that soup, I was primed to be one of its first customers. Delays held up the restaurant's opening for several months, by which time Abdelbaki had returned to Louisiana, leaving Vilim alone at the helm. The ideas behind Streat are as timely as the trailer-food trend currently sweeping the country: casual service, generous portions, reasonably authentic versions of hearty ethnic street dishes, affordable price points. Ambitious as it is timely, the concept depends on the efficient presentation of a diverse array of flavors and the consistent execution of recognizable dishes for its success. Streat promises the best casual and delicious cuisine from city streets around the world. So, how well do they actually deliver on that promise? In our experience, the results are still uneven.
Vilim finally opened Streat in early June with a limited menu, adding dishes and expanding service hours slowly over the summer. My choices during my first few visits focused on that original Thai curry carrot soup ($3.49, cup/$5.99, bowl), the Cajun gumbo ($3.99/$6.99), and the New Orleans muffaletta ($11.99, whole/$7.99, half/$4.29, quarter), with widely varying results. The carrot soup always tastes good, but the texture can vary from thick and luxurious to thin and uninspiring. Some bowls of gumbo were based on a dark, spicy roux, while others were unappetizingly broken and greasy. And though the muffaletta contained the basic components of the distinctive New Orleans sandwich, the house-made bread sometimes had the texture of a dry, crumbly muffin, filled with scant slices of meat and cheese, and dressed with a thin swipe of olive salad – it paled in comparison to Crescent City versions. A recent visit brought more substantial fillings and dressing, but I'm still not sold on the bread.
My most consistent successes at Streat have been when I've stopped by for breakfast on the way to the nearby Chronicle office. I occasionally treat myself to one of their excellent espresso drinks paired with either churros ($1 each), fried Mexican doughnut sticks crusted in cinnamon sugar, or Creole beignets ($2.49 for three), fluffy little pillows of fried dough dusted with powdered sugar. I've found both to be reliable choices. The size and diversity of the menu always beckon, however, challenging me to find successful entrée selections. Last week, a friend accompanied me to Streat for some culinary globe-trotting to discover satisfying dinner options.
We shared moist, spicy chicken Thai satays ($4.99 for three) with a spunky peanut sauce over jasmine rice and Argentinian-inspired Gaucho Sticks ($4.99 for three), flavorful skirt steak with fiery chimichurri, rice, and black beans. My friend was pleased with the Vietnamese noodle bowl ($6.99), a substantial serving of herbaceous vermicelli and chicken paired with a vegetarian egg roll. We both enjoyed halves of the báhn mì ($4.95) with toothsome pork on a La Brea Bakery baguette, though the "pickled slaw" accompaniment listed on the menu was really only dry shreds of carrots and cabbage. Cantaloupe and watermelon aguas frescas ($2.25 each) were a refreshing complement to the diverse flavors of the meal, but the selection of desserts we sampled – tres leches cake, cookies, lemon tart, and apple crunch coffee cake – were lackluster and unfortunately served past their peak of freshness.
As much as I appreciate the ambitious concept at Streat, not to mention its affordability and convenience in the vicinity of the office, I can't help but wonder if the sheer size of the menu makes it almost impossible for everything to be fresh and consistently well-executed every day. I'm not ready to write Streat off, but the food preparation has to be reliable for a menu that size to fire on all cylinders. Perhaps less could be more.
Proprietor Michael Vilim is one of Austin's savviest wine professionals, and he has recently enhanced Streat's menu with affordable wines and beers from around the globe, offering very appealing happy hour deals and intriguing passport tastings at Sunday brunch. If he's going to create another neighborhood success story as he has with Mirabelle, however, the quality and consistency of the food have to improve.
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