When I heard that Michael Vilim, the restauranteur behind two of my favorite Austin restaurants - Castle Hill Café (may it RIP) and Mirabelle - was opening a new place, I was excited. But my anticipation mounted significantly when I heard the theme - street food from around the world. Uh, yes please!
I first tasted the food from the much-anticipated StrEAT at Big Reds, Big Bubbles back in November, and then again at Viva! Las Vegas in February. So I can honestly say that I've been awaiting their arrival for over half a year, and I was thrilled when they finally opened their doors today. As luck would have it, I had time to slip out of the office for lunch on opening day, and managed to drag my law partner along for the adventure, as well.
I was so glad I had studied the menu beforehand, because it is extensive - and the wide variety in the offerings - everything from banh mi to baba ganoush and points in between - makes it all the more difficult to alight on a favorite. I settled on the Vietnamese crepe ($5.99), which looks for all the world like it is egg-based, but is actually a mixture of rice flour, coconut milk, and water along with whatever fillings you desire (at least, that's the usual way of making it; I don't know StrEAT's recipe specifically). Bill ordered an Indian curry rice bowl, which, unfortunately, I neglected to photograph. But here's my crepe:
StrEAT's crepe is made with a variety of seafood - shrimp, squid, and fish - and is super lovely, particularly when bathed in their house-made nước chấm (usually called "fish sauce" in the U.S.). The nước chấm was perfect, with just the right amount of kick, and fully flavored without being too fishy. I piled the greens that were served on the side all over the top and went to town.
Delving deeper into my crepe
I nabbed a taste of Bill's Indian curry bowl ($5.99) and thought it delicious, as well, but a bit overpriced for the size. His entire "bowl" took up only about 3/4 of what appeared to be a small to-go soup container. I am pretty sure that would not have filled me up, and he commented several times on how small it was.
Since we had room to spare, we decided to fill it with a couple of desserts - a lemon tart and a slice of tres leches. I initially thought the tart also seemed smallish for the price ($2.95), but it was pretty dense and managed to achieve a pretty perfect balance between tart and sweet.
I was worried as I peered into the case that the tres leches ($2.95) would be dry, since it wasn't sitting in a pool of liquid, but it wasn't at all. Moist and mmmm-inspiring, and probably something that would easily sell at Mirabelle for twice the price.
Based on the Siskel & Ebert rating scale, I'd definitely give StrEAT "two thumbs up." My only criticism is that I think there is an odd gap between expectations and pricing - street food served from a counter, exclusively in to-go containers with plasticware, seems like it would be cheap and plentiful, particularly given their location in the campus area. Instead, the portions are smallish and the prices, while totally reasonable generally, seem a touch high in light of the overall feel of the experience and the amount of food you get (particularly in the case of the curry bowl). I think the folks at StrEAT would do well to either step up the eating experience a bit (although I'd prefer a more environmentally-friendly solution, even paper plates would be preferable, as it's awkward to eat out of a to-go container), tweak their pricing, or manage expectations by printing on the menu or having employees mention to customers that if they're hungry, two people might opt to split, say, three entrees (which would benefit StrEAT, as well).
That said, the food I tried at StrEAT today was all outstanding, and I think this place is a serious contender in a food scene that can be lacking in the ethnic food department. I'm very much looking forward to working my way through the rest of their menu.
3211 Red River St
Austin, TX 78705