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Diners Find Favor, Flavor at the Japanese-Style Curry Club on Melrose

June 09, 1988|ROSE DOSTI | Times Staff Writer

"Welcome to the Curry Club!" announces the one-sheet menu. "We feature curry dishes with a milder California accent."

Well. Let us explain.

Curry Club restaurant is not talking about Indian curry. They're talking about Japanese-style curry, which is a rage in Japan. Curry houses abound from end to end in that country because the Japanese adore slopping the extraordinarily delicious, thick, coffee-brown curries over a mountain of sticky, stark-white rice. So do I. Love it. And if you're a curry aficionado--California-mild or not--and have never had Japanese-style curry, you will, too.

Japanese curries are far more abundant than anything you'll find in an Indian restaurant, where I never fail to pout at the tiny portions usually served--and at the prices. But I digress.

You'll find that Japanese curry restaurants are bargains among bargains. For about $5 or under you have a meal that would satisfy any he-man appetite. It's an entertainingly busy dish too, with a tureen from which you ladle the curry, the plate heaped sky-high with rice, delicious pickled vegetables on the side and a very fresh, crisp green salad.

Why so cheap? I guess part of the reason is that curry house curries are traditionally inexpensive fast-food fare that appeals to students and other people on the go.

At Curry Club the atmosphere has been upgraded to a point of matchless artistry. The restaurant is part of an art gallery, an architectural work of art with a neoclassic-industrial edge. So you feel you are dining in a small museum rather than a fast-food spot. The tables are spaced more in accordance with aesthetic appeal than commerce.

And therein lies one of the problems of the place. Within 1,000 square feet, there is seating for only 24. (The remaining area has other uses such as offices--a situation that stems, I hear, from city codes concerning the limited customer parking available in the rear.)

There are five tables and seven spaces at the counter (a wonderful idea for single diners). So don't be surprised if there is a wait--first come, first served, you know. And no pushing, please.

Actually the spaciousness is ideal if you ache to dine in a place without a creeping sense of claustrophobia from tables that are practically necking.

The club offers seven different curries--plain curry sauce, mixed vegetables curry, curry with mushrooms, beef cubes, chicken, shrimp and scallops. However, the chicken is marinated in yogurt, then added to the curry, and the seafood is sauteed first. Among the mushrooms in the mushroom curry are the Japanese shimeji and enoki. Interesting.

But you do have other choices, as well. We found the salmon saute served on a bed of spinach with rice and salad an extraordinary dish for only $5.90. The chicken saute comes with a tomato or cream sauce. Both are good, and more than ample at any price. The creamed shrimp croquettes are deep fried, served laced with tomato sauce. All curry dishes and special entrees come with salad and rice.

If a hot dish doesn't appeal for some reason, there is a chicken pasta salad that is more than filling as a main course. There is also a set of side orders for those who want neither the curry or the full-meal specials. You can order a chicken cutlet or shrimp that are deep fried or skewers containing shrimp, scallops and mushrooms (two skewers per serving). You can add a mixed salad ($2.75) and easily call it a meal.

Desserts are not listed on the menu, but you'll always find several in the dairy case. They are the typical Japanese versions of French pastries--Bavarians, a light "no-calories" cheesecake and such. Try them if you have never tried a Japanese interpretation of a French dessert--fascinating and low-calorie too.

Coffees, which the Japanese have learned to enjoy as much or more so than Westerners, are always excellent. They're usually the best brands money can buy and well brewed.

Curry Club, 6623 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles; (213) 939-4627. Open Monday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m.; Fridays until 10 p.m., Saturdays 2 to 10 p.m. Reservations not accepted. MasterCard and Visa accepted. Takeout available (no delivery) . Entrees with rice and salad $2.90 to $5.50. Wine and beer not yet available. Limited parking in rear, otherwise street parking.

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