1433 Garnet Avenue, San Diego
Hey. Here it goes. The scalp. Prickling, breaking out in sweat beads. Ladies and gentlemen, we have liftoff.
Tonight I stopped outside this big red-and-yellow sign on Garnet. “World Curry.” Hmm... Why not? I like curry. It’s like Irish stew, but spicy.
I stop at the wall menu. Must be 15, 16 curries listed there. And yes, they’re from everywhere: India, Thailand, Britain, even Japan. Lessee... The Thai curries (all with the choice of a meat, tofu, or vegetables) include mussaman (from the Muslim south of Thailand, with red chili, garlic, and onion), panang (the sweet curry with chicken, tofu, or veggies), green (with green chili, cilantro, and basil), and masala (with cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and coriander). All are mixed rich with coconut milk. The Indian ones have names like murgh masala (“tomato-based North Indian curry”) and keema (a minced chicken curry with tomato, cilantro, and peas).
The spinach curry looks like a good vegetarian option, and so does the Singapore, loaded with everything from cauliflower to carrots to spuds to chickpeas and cilantro — and the Caribbean would work too, with black beans, tomatoes, corn, and pineapple. The Japanese curry — who’d put “Japanese” and “curry” in the same sentence? — is brown, with potato, carrots, and onion. The katsu is like the Japanese curry, but with a breaded pork cutlet added. That sounds like a deal, ’cause the dishes are mostly priced at $6.75 for regular, $9.75 for large. Oh, and there’s a pretty sexy-looking teriyaki curry — breast of chicken with mixed veggies and a dark teriyaki sauce “using Momoko’s old family recipe.” Hmm... Momoko. Wonder if she’s the gal at the register?
“I’m Momo,” she says when I ask. She can tell I’m dithering about choices. “The Thai curries are the most popular,” she says. “And vegetarians love the Caribbean.”
And the hot ones?
“You can have any as hot as you want,” she says.
I spot the vindaloo curry, “a hot and tangy curry for the adventurous curry eater.” Guess I’m that adventurous guy, heh heh. I order it — spicy — with brown rice and an iced tea. It’s $7.49 for the curry and $1.65 for the tea.
I go to find a seat. The place has green booths set against both side walls and a long table running up the middle. Yellow walls, and pinkish fabric banners slung below the ceiling, between big leaf-shaped paddle ceiling fans. Giant Asian photos take up one wall. The first one, I see, is of Ganesh, the elephant god. Yeah, he’s cool. I sit down. Notice that the front window lifts like a garage door. You can see the rails curving up the wall and along the ceiling. Huh. Daytime, this must open right onto the street. Great.
Gal named Devin brings up a small salad bowl with shredded cabbage, lettuce, and then, on an oval, biscuit-brown Bakelite plate, the vindaloo. It’s a brown mess of shredded chicken, plus a perfect pressed pyramid of brown rice.
I chomp in. Wow. What flavor is that? Tang of…chutney? In the meat? Whatever — yee-hi! It’s starting to pack heat. Bristles on my head’re standing up. Nose is starting to itch. This is a bronco I can ride. Only thing nagging me is that mystery flavor. I take a fork-load of the salad. Huh. Similar seductive taste.
“Rice vinegar,” says Momo when I ask. “It’s in both. Vindaloo and salad.” She sits down a moment. This is her business, with her husband Bruce. They met in Japan. He was a finance major at SDSU and went over on a student exchange. They met when she was 19, on a weekend when she was helping her uncle put on an arts festival over there. She later took Bruce to kari (curry) stalls that, turns out, dot every Japanese town. “He loved it,” she says. “So he went to cooking school in northern Thailand, where they taught curry-making.”
That’s when they had this idea: Why not create a curry restaurant back in San Diego? And not just Indian or Thai or Japanese curries, but all of them. “We’re the only ones doing this in the county,” she says. “Probably the world.”
Of course, when they opened up here 13 years ago, it was tough. “No one even knew what curry was,” she says. “We had to do a lot of educating.”
Wow. I’m getting some education myself. Like, Momo says my vindaloo is shredded chicken slow-cooked in rice vinegar, brown sugar, garlic, ginger, and serrano peppers. And the soup I almost had, mulligatawny (remember that Seinfeld episode, “The Soup Nazi”?), is a thick, spicy, British-style-curry chicken soup. Mulligatawny sounds Irish, but it comes from Tamil words meaning “pepper water.”
“Would you like some chutney with your curry?” she asks. “Heck, yes,” I say. Momo gets up, brings back a jar of dee-licious apple-peach chutney that sets off the vindaloo meat with an even sweeter tang.
“Excuse me,” says this guy, Ravi, at the next booth, “but I asked for the tikka masala hot, like, spicy. It is not spicy.”
“I know, they probably have to tame it for the PB crowds,” says Ravi. “I love this place. I bring my family all the time. And I love this beer.”
He picks up the large bottle of — wow — Himalaya Blue, from Sikkim, foothills of Mt. Everest. I swear. Next time.
I’m still curious about Japanese curry. So I order a plate to go, to take home to the long-suffering Carla.
“Hot?” says Momo. “Really hot?”
Ha! Opportunity knocks! Carla claims she can out-spice me any day. Maybe it’s time for a showdown.
The Place: World Curry, 1433 Garnet Avenue, Pacific Beach, 858-270-4455
Type of Food: Curries
Prices: Curries ($6.75–$6.99 regular, $8.99–$9.99 large, each with choice of meat, tofu, or vegetables) include mussaman (red chili, garlic, onion), panang (sweet curry), green curry (green chili, cilantro, basil), and masala (cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, coriander), all with coconut milk; Indian curries include murgh masala (“tomato-based North Indian curry”), keema (minced chicken curry); vegetarian curries include the Singapore (mixed veggies), the Caribbean (with black beans, corn, pineapple); Japanese curries include the Japanese (potato, carrots, onion); the katsu (with breaded pork cutlet)
Hours: 11:00 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Monday to Saturday; midday to 9:00 p.m. Sunday
Buses: 8, 9, 27, 30
Nearest Bus Stop: Haines and Garnet (8, 9, 27); Grant and Ingraham (30)