Friday, October 3, 2008

It's Fall - A Nice Time for Curry Udon.

One evening on the phone a friend of mine in Japan was talking about how he found a hole of an Udon shop that offered an amazing Curry Udon. It was even conveniently located along the many twists, turns and stop lights of his drive home from work. He would describe the soup being not too thick or thin but at some nuance in between.. and "Oh so awesomely good.."

That was all it took for me to have a major case of Curry Udon Envy and my journey for a comparable bowl in San Diego had started not so long after.

Although Teri Cafe had somewhat let me down by not offering a Teriyaki Chicken Sandwich during my tryouts, they did come through when searching for Curry Udon.

The Chicken Curry Udon ($6.25).

While I found it on the thin side like with most of their broths for Ramen, I thought the soup had a sufficient Curry flavor with a medium spice heat. I was neutral about the chicken. The added protein was nice but I thought the strips of breast meat could've been more tender. The Nori garnish felt out of place and in my opinion maybe belonged more on a Ramen.

The Inari I had as a side was a nice choice ($1.55 for 2-pcs). Extra rice when having a good Curry Udon is not a bad thing.

I realized I had way too many pre-made refrigerated deli Inari's in the past. These were plump with fresh sushi rice and a nice quantity of sesame seeds. And not that I thought this Udon was salty but it did strangely make me crave for a bite of the Inari after every few slurps..

As I probed the flavors of the soup (while remembering the Nori) I started to wonder if what was used to blend with the curry was in fact one of the bases for their Ramen.

Because while the Curry soup did have a Japanese flare, it also felt a bit more complicated than if made with a simple Dried Bonito, Konbu, and/or Shiitake Wa-fu Dashi stock. This is only a guess though and I didn't feel compelled enough to bother asking. However I did ask if they made the Udon noodles since I knew they did this for their Ramen. Although the answer was no, I still found it to have a good stretchy chew and smooth texture. All in all it was a decent Curry Udon to be had.

Teri Cafe, 7305 Clairemont Mesa Blvd, San Diego, CA 92111

The one I had at Curry House was a total curve ball for me. I was expecting something much more familiar from this Japanese restaurant chain who specializes in all and then some that is of Japanese Curry.

The Grilled Stone Curry Soup Udon ($9.50).

While the Curry that would make the soup's base was the darker rue of the trusted House brand, it was unfortunately also quite a bit thinned out. The variety of toppings ranged from slices of boiled eggs, poached spinach, baby carrots, potatoes, mushrooms and stewed chicken.

While I was just warming up to Curry House again (a post in the near future) I have to say this wasn't one of my favorite dishes they offer.

It didn't take long to finish the toppings and I was left with a large amount of noodles and thin soup. Since there were too much that would be sad to be wasted, after a few tries remedying with Shichimi Pepper (House brand of course) I abandoned all notions of an orthodox approach of a quick fix and went for a generous drizzle of Hot Oil, Fukushin Zuke Pickles and even Parmesan Cheese (I was desperate).

Not the greatest Curry House moment to my record but with such creative spirit with as I mentioned earlier, all and then some that is of Japanese Curry, you gotta love the Curry House. I'll be back for these others.

Curry House, 3860 Convoy St. #102, San Diego, CA 92111

Since Curry Udon is already a fusion and I was at a slim pickings of places in San Diego who offered it, I thought I'd try the version at Dao Son Noodle House.

Dao Son is blessed by passionate followers, mostly neighborhood locals who probably have been visiting since childhood or frugal times in school. It isn't uncommon during my occasional visits to see a patron come in with open arms (literally) and immediately hug the chef while catching up with the friendly crew like an auntie would her nieces. All the people who run Dao Son are impossible not to like.

Perhaps on a double edged view though, to take testaments from these passionate devotees of any cost-performance driven eatery at face value can be a tricky thing, especially after hearing more than a few stories of disappointment. So my assessment of the place is yes Dao Son can be good, the price is definitely right, and give them a try if you're around the area in the mood for Vietnamese/Chinese/Japanese fusion. The art of praise while not overpromising is a delicate one.

Of this fusion, although the menu lists the likes of Meso Soup, Yaki Soba and Ramen, these all definitely errs heavily on the Vietnamese/Chinese side of the fusion-o-meter slide rule, so just a note to prepare what mindset you might want to be in before you dive into that Chasu Meso Ramen.

The Chicken Curry Udon ($6.25).

A voluminous filling meal as usual. It was topped with a quick curry stir-fry along with some slices of Kamaboko and sweet marinated Shiitake mushrooms.

The soup was again very thin for what I would expect in a Curry Udon. Unlike Curry House's version though was the addition of sweet flavors of what I would describe as the base sauce that is used in many of Dao Son's stir-fries. I've come to expect this flavor from most dishes at Dao Son.

The Udon was also not the thick and chewy Japanese version but reminded me of the thick egg noodles used in some Chinese noodle soups. Although this dish was far from a true Japanese Curry Udon, somehow everything seemed to work together and I would say Dao Son had delivered yet again a good affordable meal. When you realize this is what Dao Son is about, all is fair.

The Veggie Tempura I had as a side, another fine bargain at only $2.

Came with Broccoli, two extremely large slices of Zucchini, and a Tofu triangle.
The Dipping Sauce was again the Dao Son ubiquitous sweet stir-fry base. It is after all what their loyal customers keep coming back for and certainly keeps me on occasion.

Chiba Japanese I've been to once before. Although I remember the experience not starting well with their starter salad and odd miso soup (it was instant and very foamy), the Chicken Katsudon did win me over. I however didn't really find any reason to return especially with their location being a bit out of the way for me.
That was until I found a comment somewhere on the web that claimed they had "the best Curry Udon ever." So again since I didn't have anything to lose with less than a handful of places that even bothered to offer it in SD, I decided to give them a try.

I was pleasantly surprised to find out that their version offered a choice of Chicken or Pork Katsu or Shrimp Tempura topping.

(Chicken) Katsu Curry Noodles ($6.25).

The soup again consistent with others not very viscous and with only a mild curry flavor. The noodles were more Udon-like than at Dao Son but still lacked any chewiness and was rather clumpy.

As I went through the cast iron nabe bowl I found tender pieces of beef, carrots and potatoes. And while I was fishing for more, a surprise of a random Pork Shumai (which I unfortunately forgot to take a photo of).
The Chicken Katsu was also tender but had been simmered in with the Udon which made the fried bread crust all but crispy. I would've probably enjoyed it more simply placed on top or served on the side.

Since the Inari was a hit at Teri Cafe I also orded one here with also Tamago (both $1.50 for 2-pcs)

Chiba Japanese Food and Sushi Restaurant, 10435 San Diego Mission Rd, San Diego, CA 92108

I would've sworn Kayaba in Mitsuwa Market offered one only to sadly see that none of their fabulous plastic Udon recreations behind the glass display were of caramel-colored curry. Other places I checked that doesn't offer Curry Udon is Tajima (both), Ichiro, Umenoya, Yu Me Ya, Sushi Ota, Toshi-san Sushi, Kazumi, Okan, Suzuya BBQ and Osaka Kitchen.

The style of Curry Udon that I crave while unmistakeably a fusion dish is distinctively Japanese. That is the Japanese Curry is blended with a Japanese Dashi Stock.

The version at Sakura is like so and so far the better that I had. You will be able to taste the Dashi under the ladled Curry which this day had a particularly strong Shiitake flavor that I enjoyed.

I think this is to let the person mix to his or her liking but I would recommend simply stirring the entire contents until a smooth consistency.

This rather opaque and thicker Curry Soup is what it's all about to me. And while a few slices of Naga Negi or even couple Snow Peas would have made it better, it was quite the tasty dish that I had hoped for.

Izakaya Sakura, 3904 Convoy St #121, San Diego, CA 92111

Overall maybe not the most exciting Curry Udon post but my research did lead me to other unexpected discoveries such as the Bun Cari Ga (Vietnamese Chicken Curry Vermicelli) and Thai Curry Noodle Soup.. And that definitely is exciting!


KirkK said...

Hi Dennis - You know, I stay away from all of the Japanese or truly Vietnamese offerings at Daoson - I like the Catfish (though I usually hate catfish) with Eggplant, and the Red Chicken.

Dennis K. said...

Thanks for the tip Kirk, I'll definitely have to try those. With great dishes such as Bun Cari Ga (I just had my first bowl this morning!) it's not going to be hard laying off the Curry Udon for a while.. :)

Anonymous said...

where did you get the bun cari ga?

Dennis K. said...

Hi Anonymous.. I got one at Saigon off El Cajon Blvd. Both new experiences for me so can't say a whole lot but I felt the dish had a lot of potential. The noodles in the bowl I had although generous were very over cooked and too soft.. I could hardly grab them with my chopsticks! I'm sure I'll post about it sooner or later. Thanks for dropping by!