There was a time when the Chris Yeo Group was the king of San Jose’s Santana Row, operating three restaurants in this retail-restaurant-housing complex.
Only one remains now, though — Straits. It was his first establishment at Santana Row, and the concept that really made a name for him when he first opened the original Straits in San Francisco (which shuttered long ago). These days, with Yeo mostly retired, it’s his son Julian who runs the restaurant operations.
With its lounge-y, nightclub-like vibe and seductively attired female servers — which can be a plus or minus, depending on your predilection — Straits always drew a lively crowd pre-pandemic. Now, with only takeout and delivery service, the atmosphere is obviously more subdued.
While its atmosphere may have overshadowed the food at times, Straits still serves up solid, satisfying Malaysian cuisine.
The braised pork belly buns ($16) come on squishy Hawaiian-bread-like slider rolls, with a succulent thick slice of pork, crisp cucumber, and sweet-tangy pickled onions.
Singaporean chicken rice at Local Kitchen & Wine Merchant in San Francisco.
As the former chef of Drip Line in Oakland and head kitchen manager for Blue Bottle Coffee in Oakland, Nora Haron has built a solid reputation in the East Bay.
But now she has staked a firm foothold in San Francisco, taking over the reins this year at Local Kitchen & Wine Merchant in the South of Market district.
The once Italian menu has been transformed by the Singaporean-born chef’s Southeast Asian flair. She’ll be the first to tell you that what she cooks is not rigidly traditionally authentic. Instead, she takes liberties, injecting her own personal preferences into the mix, as I found out when I was invited in as her guest recently.
When Haron is in the house, you know immediately. She is a gregarious, warm presence, sort of like the Asian auntie who invites you over to her house, then fills you to the gills with her home-cooking, thinking that if you don’t leave with a full belly, something is seriously wrong.
Chef Nora Haron took over and put her own spin on the menu earlier this year.
When she finds out that a young couple dining for the first time just moved into the neighborhood from out of state, she stops by to chat at length. When she discovers that another table of six includes a few Singaporean natives, she immediately brings over a bowl of her curry for them to try.