The street food of Singapore is renowned for its big flavors and appealing variety—the country's cuisine draws from Malaysian, Chinese, Indonesian, Indian, and Thai traditions—so it makes sense that someone would have a go at replicating that "hawker food" experience in a part of Manhattan, and in a location where people tend to gather in groups for a boisterous night out.
It also makes sense that this someone would be chef Salil Mehta who, along with his co-owner (and wife) Stacey Mehta, earned a Michelin star for Laut, their pan-Asian restaurant. The two have also, over the years, run at least four other spots, including the Maylasian Pasar Malam and Chinese Club in Williamsburg. Their brand new restaurant, opening tonight on East 20th Street, is called Laut Signapura, and though it seems to share much of the menu of its similarly-named predecessor a couple of blocks away, Mehta assured us at a complimentary preview dinner this week that every dish here is unique to Singapura, whether in its preparation, or ingredients, or both.
The Laut Signapura menu sprawls. There are four varieties of Roti, several grilled meats and seafood dishes, or Panggang, and a couple of Malay rice concoctions called Kerabu. Noodle Soups, Singapore Chili Crab and Black Pepper Lobster, a bunch of Fried Rice and Noodle choices, a dozen "small bites" plates that include Dim Sum, Sambal Tempeh, and Chicken Wings... there's a lot going on, three full pages of appealing choices, and Mehta says he really wanted to offer even more.
We feasted on nine different dishes, and everything was good, lively, varied, and fun to eat. It all makes for an excellent sharing situation, with as many people as possible. My personal favorites were the Murtabak Roti, the "flipped Indian pancake" stuffed with ground beef, egg, and chili, and served with zippy curry dip; the Cantonese Egg Ribbons Rice, a cone-shaped mountain of grains studded with funky sausage and tender chunks of beef; and the Hainanese Chicken, a strong entry into the suddenly crowded boiled-chicken field.
For dessert, there's a Durian Sundae (we passed), a terrific Kaya, which is a bowl of warm sticky rice blanketed by thick, sweet coconut pandan jam, and a crazy Tisu roti, fried crisp and towering about two feet off the table. Crackle it down and dip the pieces in the caramelized condensed milk on your plate.
There's no booze yet—Mehta is hoping for early September—but the iced Malaysian White Coffee (it tastes similar to Thai iced tea) and an Avocado Smoothie sticky with palm sugar were both excellent.
The space was designed by Mehta himself (he graduated from Parsons), and it has a much more plush and clubby feel than the other Laut. There's seating for about 60 guests at a long padded banquette, or at the bar, or at a pair of cool-looking bench "booths," or at one of two round party tables, by the front window or back near the kitchen. There's lots of patterned marble, tile, and brick, the music is cheesy dance stuff (which I love), and it's easy to picture the place loud and crowded with hungry revelers.
Laut Singapura is located at 31 East 20th Street, between Broadway and Park Avenue South, and is open Monday through Friday for lunch (11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.) and dinner (5p.m. to 10:30 p.m.), and on Saturday from noon to 11 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 10 p.m. (212-674-5288; lautsingapura.com)