Your winter eating plan, step 1: Order some Japanese katsu kare (cutlet curry). Step 2: Lean the crispy cutlet against the white rice like Deborah Kerr on Burt Lancaster in From Here to Eternity, then slosh the thick, dark curry sauce around them like waves of flavor. Step 3: Enjoy. Kare raisu (curry rice), a staple of quick-service lunch counters throughout Japan, is pure comfort food. It’s also the hottest carryout dish from chefs making a pandemic pivot.
These chefs aren’t using the blocks of additive-laden curry roux found in supermarkets. Instead, they’re making flavor-packed sauces with caramelized onions for body, apples for sweetness, fresh spices, and a few secret ingredients. Foremost among these curryheads is Shin Thompson, the Michelin-starred chef behind the Furious Spoon ramen chain. His curry-focused virtual restaurant, Bokuchan’s (3517 N. Spaulding Ave., Avondale), is designed with the weeaboo (Japanophile) in mind. Place your order, then wait for a bag that looks like a special delivery from an anime studio, packed with containers slapped with the logo of a kid eating curry. Each order comes with shredded cabbage, pickled cukes, and beni shoga (red pickled ginger). The katsu kare (from $14.50) is good, but the best is the beef stew curry ($15.50), with beef drippings giving the sauce extra depth and richness.
Having frequented many curry rice counters during my years teaching in Japan, I got nostalgic feels from the dark, gloppy katsu curry ($11.95) at Ramen House Shinchan (701 N. Milwaukee Ave., Vernon Hills; 1939 S. Plum Grove Rd., Palatine). It starts with turmeric-heavy Japanese curry powder, goes to a spicy place, and finishes with a hint of sweetness. It also comes with proper fukujinzuke (sweet-sour curry pickles). At Momotaro (820 W. Lake St., West Loop), Gene Kato makes a roux with Japanese curry powder and the right admixture of onion, shiitake, and apple to hit the center of the sweet-savory nexus. Get the version featuring a pair of chicken cutlets ($24) — holy Pokémon, are they crunchy and perfect.
There is yet more curry. Bo Fowler makes a maitake katsu ($28) at Bixi (2515 N. Milwaukee Ave., Logan Square), Brett Suzuki serves vegetable curry ($12) in a bento box at Arigato Market (1407 W. Grand Ave., West Town), and Julia Momose of Kumiko (630 W. Lake St., West Loop) offers a buttery katsu version ($21) served alongside mugicha, a roasted barley tea she drank with curry rice as a kid (she loves the dish so much, her New Wave cocktail is inspired by it).
We may not be eating in restaurants this winter, so thank the spirits and forest sprites for carryout curry.