Editor's Note: We've already reviewed the traditional curry rice served at Curry House's Cupertino branch. The curry at the Irvine, California branch is identical, so this review from our new SoCal correspondent focuses on two less traditional curry presentations served at each branch of the chain: Curry-Pan and Grilled-Stone Curry.
For readers of Americurry, it is not enough to take as given Ōtisu's First Axiom ("Curry is the best of all possible foods.") Our stomachs might be full and content, but our heads will be dull and empty. No, to find true curry happiness, we must look beyond the perfection of Japanese curry, past even the glory of the Threefold Toppings1, to that oft-overlooked foundation stone of the curry plate: the starches.
Far more than the mere "glue" holding the curry together on your spoon, the right rice or bread can make or break a curry dish. One only has to visualize Japanese curry over a long-grained basmati or Uncle Ben's Instant to realize how much rice can add or detract from the enjoyment of curry. For the curry aficionado willing to venture slightly further afield, the popular Curry House restaurant chain offers two unique presentations.
The first, Grilled-Stone Curry (pictured top), takes its name from the searingly hot stone bowl in which it's served. A bed of rice is covered in various vegetables: corn, green beans, mushrooms, carrots, and sprouts, plus your choice of pork katsu, eel, seafood, or rib eye steak. Once the stone bowl is brought to your table, the curry sauce is poured on and the contents mixed. After a few minutes of cooking right there at your table, it's ready to enjoy.
Given the just-in-time grilling, Grilled-Stone Curry is incredibly hot -- and incredibly delicious. When lukewarm rice and tepid curry mar so many American curry plates, it's great to experience a piping hot platter. Even better is the way the stone bowl chars the bottom layer of rice, creating a crispy, crunchy shell that perfectly offsets the curry's sweet spiciness.
So what's the downside? Curry House's somewhat stingy rice-to-curry ratio can result in a dish that resembles a curried rice pilaf than, well, curry rice. Upsize your curry and maximize your enjoyment.
Another delicious option is Curry-Pan: curry-filled bread. It's a staple in Japanese school lunchrooms, and this is an excellent example. The bread has a crispy, fried exterior and doughy, spongy inside: thick enough to support the curry inside, but not so thick that all you get is a mouthful of bread. The curry filling is actual curry, a major step up from the paste-like "astronaut curry" most often used as filling. A bit more filling would be perfection, but then again, what empty space wouldn't be improved by filling it with curry?
Curry-Pan takes 20 minutes to make, so order as soon as you arrive.
Are either of these dishes superior to traditional curry? Probably not. But with two more ways to enjoy this best of all possible foods, why not stop by a nearby Curry House and judge for yourself?
1Pork katsu, sausage, and cheese.
Curry House (Irvine)
14407 Culver Drive, Irvine, CA
Hours: Mon-Thu: 11:30 am - 2:30 pm, 5:30 pm - 9:00 pm, Fri: 11:30 am - 2:30 pm, 5:30 pm -9:30 pm, Sat:11:30 am - 9:30 pm, Sun:11:30 am - 9:00 pm
Toppings Available: Pork katsu, chicken katsu, beef katsu, menchi katsu, hamburger, fried shrimp, onion rings, diced beef, stewed chicken, mixed vegetables, mixed seafood, sausage, boiled egg, potato croquette, tofu, rib eye steak (dinner only)
Spice Levels: Mild, Medium, Hot
+ Sizzling hot flavor
+ Crispy rice
- Rice to curry ratio causes problems
+ Perfect curry bread texture
+ Real curry filling
- A bit more curry filling wouldn't hurt
Verdict: Though neither dish is going to replace traditional Japanese curry, both Grilled-Stone Curry and Curry offer enough unique flavors and textures to make them well worth checking out.