A couple of weeks ago, Los Angeles Times columnist Gregory Rodriguez wrote about the popularity of tacos . . . in Sweden. Scandinavian tacos apparently haven't reached the quality of Santa Ana's best—Rodriguez described them as filled with something that tasted "like a spaghetti meat sauce with chopped lettuce"—but he nevertheless expressed amazement that Mexican cuisine now stretches to the furthest, frostiest regions of Earth.
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Though an entertaining read, Rodriguez's column was dated the moment it published. Cultures adopting foreign cuisines and modifying them to suit local tastes is a practice as old as warfare, and Rodriguez could've proved his point by visiting Curry House instead of billing the Times for his Stockholm sojourn. Curry House is a Japanese chain (local outposts are in Irvine and Cypress) that combines the feel and foodstuffs of a trattoria, a steakhouse and a ramen joint in large, family-style halls. It specializes in curry, a dish that didn't make it to Japan until the late 1800s. Over the past century, the Japanese have tamed curry's trademark fire and thickened its delivery vehicle into an unctuous sauce, simultaneously salty and sweet.
At Curry House, you can enjoy the charms of this Nipponese-Indian hybrid—heavy, earthier and more redolent of meat flavors than a traditional Asian curry. There are 12 curries available; in the traditional curries, the beef and chicken chunks are dark with warm, slightly spicy curry. Better is the katsu curry, breaded cutlets that soak up the sauce and present a delightful interplay of crunch, flavor and heat. And then come curries only a Japanese or a college student could love—curry over chopped-up wieners; curry on a hamburger patty; even curry with deep-fried onion rings, a brilliant, greasy combination that every hamburger stand in American should steal.
If you want a break from curry, Curry House offers another mongrelized meal: Japanese spaghetti. The spaghetti noodles and sauce are standard—flavorful, firm, just as mom makes. The difference is in the toppings: Tarako and ika spaghetti is all about the saltiness, owing to marbles of cod roe and lengths of squid that entwine within the spaghetti strands. It's good, but not as flavorful as the kinoko and kaiware spaghetti—mushrooms, onions and radish sprouts. Italian grandmothers would faint at the mash-ups here, but in Curry House's spaghetti you find the beauty of humanity—always combining, cooking and stealing from each other toward the advancement of a good lunch or dinner.
CURRY HOUSE, 14407 CULVER DR., IRVINE, (949) 654-1449; ALSO AT 10953 MERIDIAN DR., STE. P, CYPRESS, (714) 527-6224.