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The indelible seasons of Curryosity

For better or worse, its curious spice blends stand out

A colorful bar space anchors Curryosity.
A colorful bar space anchors Curryosity.

Given a healthy appreciation for good puns, South Asian cuisine, and proximity, I was more than curious when Indian restaurant Curryosity opened close to home in South Park last fall. It gave a good look to an intermittently vacant restaurant space that needed it. The dark storefront received a bright white paint job, with saturated splashes of pink and gold and a sign that declared Curryosity would be, “spicing up the neighborhood.”

Place

Curryosity

3023 Juniper St, San Diego

Visions of Indian takeout danced through my head, of fresh naan and lots of aromatic leftovers rotating through my refrigerator. Then I saw the vibrant interior, elegantly furnished, with colorful artwork and stained glass pendant lamps, and realized the space offered a sort of dine-in experience the entire east side of Balboa Park has been craving. A large, open window counter and patio dining open the bar area to the sidewalk along Juniper Street, effectively settling the matter: it looks every bit a boon to the community.

Playful touches in a mostly elegant casual space

All that was left was to start ordering food. I didn’t expect it to be groundbreaking. I actually had a few ideas how it might go. But those ideas were dashed early on. With each first bite of a traditional Indian dish I’d eaten a couple dozen times elsewhere, I found myself thinking, “Well, this is different.”

I have to applaud the distinction. Truth is, I’ve encountered too much homogeny among dishes at Indian restaurants in San Diego and elsewhere, that suggest prevalent use of common spice blends or curry pastes. Many different places and times, I’ve had the same tikka masala, the same tandoori rub, the same chickpea batter seasoning in a litany of fried vegetable pakoras. However, despite the sameness, these ubiquitous spice profiles happen to be pretty darn satisfying. In a warm, viscous sauce, their densely packed flavors hit every corner of your palate, and consume your senses in a way few global cuisines can match.

A blander than expected curry mac and cheese

The unfortunate side effect is that, when I do encounter original, house-made spice blends, as I’ve found at Curryosity, the first impulse is to judge them against that common denominator. It’s tough and maybe a unfair to make a judgment about quality when you’re pitting new against the comfort of the familiar. Give bratwurst to kid who’s only ever eaten ballpark hot dogs, and that kid’s probably going to insist the hot dog tastes better, because it’s what he or she knows and expects. Never mind that a bratwurst is objectively better than a frankfurter, QED.

So I adjusted my expectations and started looking at Currosity as a different sort of place. One willing to push boundaries, buck tradition, and broaden our understanding of a cuisine. There’s a playfulness to it, evidenced by curried macaroni and cheese, and latkes topped with tamarind chutney. However, I keep coming back to the traditional entrees and finding reasons to like them less, not more, than off-the-shelf alternatives. A bitter bite to the $13 stewed spinach saag paneer. An unshakably acridity bringing down a slightly over-baked clay oven tandoori chicken ($15). While the coconut-based Nirvana curry ($13 with tofu) was near perfectly executed, it’s perhaps more telling that the masala in my skimpy $7 curry mac was out-seasoned by the black pepper, sea salt, and whole cumin seeds in the papadom crackers served alongside it.

Distinctive but somewhat acrid clay oven tandoori chicken

Six months on, I’m starting to wonder whether I’ve given Curryosity too much credit for drawing me out of the Indian spice bubble. I might still cruise past and appreciate its vibrancy, but owing to routine inconsistencies among its entrees, only my curiosity has been satisfied.

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A colorful bar space anchors Curryosity.
A colorful bar space anchors Curryosity.

Given a healthy appreciation for good puns, South Asian cuisine, and proximity, I was more than curious when Indian restaurant Curryosity opened close to home in South Park last fall. It gave a good look to an intermittently vacant restaurant space that needed it. The dark storefront received a bright white paint job, with saturated splashes of pink and gold and a sign that declared Curryosity would be, “spicing up the neighborhood.”

Place

Curryosity

3023 Juniper St, San Diego

Visions of Indian takeout danced through my head, of fresh naan and lots of aromatic leftovers rotating through my refrigerator. Then I saw the vibrant interior, elegantly furnished, with colorful artwork and stained glass pendant lamps, and realized the space offered a sort of dine-in experience the entire east side of Balboa Park has been craving. A large, open window counter and patio dining open the bar area to the sidewalk along Juniper Street, effectively settling the matter: it looks every bit a boon to the community.

Playful touches in a mostly elegant casual space

All that was left was to start ordering food. I didn’t expect it to be groundbreaking. I actually had a few ideas how it might go. But those ideas were dashed early on. With each first bite of a traditional Indian dish I’d eaten a couple dozen times elsewhere, I found myself thinking, “Well, this is different.”

I have to applaud the distinction. Truth is, I’ve encountered too much homogeny among dishes at Indian restaurants in San Diego and elsewhere, that suggest prevalent use of common spice blends or curry pastes. Many different places and times, I’ve had the same tikka masala, the same tandoori rub, the same chickpea batter seasoning in a litany of fried vegetable pakoras. However, despite the sameness, these ubiquitous spice profiles happen to be pretty darn satisfying. In a warm, viscous sauce, their densely packed flavors hit every corner of your palate, and consume your senses in a way few global cuisines can match.

A blander than expected curry mac and cheese

The unfortunate side effect is that, when I do encounter original, house-made spice blends, as I’ve found at Curryosity, the first impulse is to judge them against that common denominator. It’s tough and maybe a unfair to make a judgment about quality when you’re pitting new against the comfort of the familiar. Give bratwurst to kid who’s only ever eaten ballpark hot dogs, and that kid’s probably going to insist the hot dog tastes better, because it’s what he or she knows and expects. Never mind that a bratwurst is objectively better than a frankfurter, QED.

So I adjusted my expectations and started looking at Currosity as a different sort of place. One willing to push boundaries, buck tradition, and broaden our understanding of a cuisine. There’s a playfulness to it, evidenced by curried macaroni and cheese, and latkes topped with tamarind chutney. However, I keep coming back to the traditional entrees and finding reasons to like them less, not more, than off-the-shelf alternatives. A bitter bite to the $13 stewed spinach saag paneer. An unshakably acridity bringing down a slightly over-baked clay oven tandoori chicken ($15). While the coconut-based Nirvana curry ($13 with tofu) was near perfectly executed, it’s perhaps more telling that the masala in my skimpy $7 curry mac was out-seasoned by the black pepper, sea salt, and whole cumin seeds in the papadom crackers served alongside it.

Distinctive but somewhat acrid clay oven tandoori chicken

Six months on, I’m starting to wonder whether I’ve given Curryosity too much credit for drawing me out of the Indian spice bubble. I might still cruise past and appreciate its vibrancy, but owing to routine inconsistencies among its entrees, only my curiosity has been satisfied.

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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