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October 26, 2010

Foodents: No hurry for curry from Chicago Curry House

“Baseball is 90 percent mental, and the other half is physical.” – Yogi Berra, 1957

Going out to eat is a very particular experience, and it is one that requires a number of elements to make it enjoyable, many of which have nothing to do with food. The lighting, the atmosphere, the service, the location, the conversations you have, and the things you remember: These things matter.

As with comparable experiences in life, dining out is often the most rewarding when it hits you with something unexpected, serving both the food itself and a new idea of what it even means to serve food. For us college students eager to understand the grand mysteries of the world, the latter is even more important. A night out on the town is not merely that. It is an unusual respite, a chance for us to free our minds from the disconcerting rhythms of organized life, to once again climb back on top of Time and declare ourselves its dubious master.

So, pause with us a moment. Pause with us and remember the greats. The Thai restaurant nestled snugly between the daycare and dance studio of a Young Women’s Christian Association. The ever-elusive Taco Truck that one can only find when one is not looking for it. Eastern European bars with clientele drawn exclusively from the same construction company. Legendary abalone shacks run by proprietors with dark, criminal pasts. Amish caravans that hold parking-lot pig roasts the third Sunday of every month. Diners in old train cars. Drive-ins the size of cubicles. Eat-in sausage factories.

Our trip to the Chicago Curry House ultimately did not make this list of greats. It is a very good Indian and Nepalese restaurant, but it is entirely, shamelessly preoccupied with serving you food and only food. New experiences have no place here. The food is quasi-memorable, but the experience is not. And the food is memorable only if one sits down on the old thinking stool and has a good ol’ think about the Nepalese goat stew one ate last night. It’s not unlikely that one will reach a positive verdict, but it’s going to take a disappointingly long time.

It’s time to level with you, dear reader. We don’t particularly want to be writing this column. I mean, it’s not like the Curry House was terrible or anything. It was good. But, goddammit, this column is coming out about as easily as a Calvinist in 16th century Geneva. So, not very easily.

Nothing changed when we went to the Curry House. Our rhythm continued uninterrupted and our weekend stayed uninspired. Devoting this much space, positive or negative, to the Curry House just seems wrong, like zooming in too closely to some corner of a painting or just listening to a solitary note in a song. The Curry House as an isolated island of experience wasn’t just disappointing; it was downright nonexistent, falling comfortably into the category of “Things We Did on Saturday” rather than standing on its

own.

In the Curry House, the conversation actually transitioned from pre-feudal agrarian systems to politics. For your Foodents, this was rather unsettling (the preferred topic of conversation being things that could be or have been utterly shattered.) We left with about eight different dishes, all packed carefully into the sort of container usually reserved for pico de gallo.

The Curry House feeds, but it cannot satiate. It intrigues, but it cannot inspire. Someday, maybe, we will return to the Curry House. Perhaps, after a couple of years, the non-memory of the Curry House will have mostly left our minds, leaving only the vestigial concept of a Nepalese/Indian restaurant in the South Loop of Chicago.

But it must be said that the Curry House serves very good, and possibly interesting, food. The Nepalese items on the menu are intensely flavored in ways that are unfamiliar to the average Western diner. Please take a look at this last sentence and reread the word “intense” a few times, because that’s how their dal Bhuteko Kauli tastes. Their mango lassis as well.

We would like to apologize for all of this negativity. But unless you acknowledge the clouds, how much can you truly know of the blueness of the sky?

Farewell, stay well, eat well. :(

As a postscript, a note on what we ordered: The Non Veg Bhojan—a vast sampler of Nepalese food—consisted of khukurako Maasu (chicken with bone and Nepalese spices), Khasi Ko Maasu (goat with bone and Nepalese spices), Aloo (cubed shaped boiled potatoes), Tama Bodi (potatoes, bamboo shoots, and black-eyed peas), Nepali dal Bhuteko Kauli (Nepalese-style yellow lentils) with Bhat Roti and Kheer (meat with bone). This was twenty dollars, a good deal. This was markedly better than a Tandoori platter that we also

ordered.

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