On Aki's recommendation, we met for lunch at Hanami on 45th just eat of 3rd Ave. Unbeknownst to me and anyone who doesn't read or watch Japanese media, Hanami is reknown for the japanese style curries. From the outside, it looks like just another small family style japanese restaurant on the east side. The dusty front window is strewn with photos of the bento/sushi/udon plates, and the menu itself is pretty unremarkable. Next to the entry however, is a press blurb from a japanese newspaper recommending the katsu curry. And for those who can read japanese (katakana), you'll notice 10 different curry dishes offered on the Japanese menu leaning on the window ledge below those photos. The interior has a swiss chalet feel, but after you see the 20 bottles of sake in the front bar, a japanese essence reveals itself.
Aki mentioned to me that this is the only serious curry places in NYC, if not one of the top in the country. Apparently, the chef takes great care to make his curries from scratch, making constant adjustments to perfect his recipe. Japanese curries begin from a butter/flour roux, japanese curry powder (a special mix), and a rich beef broth. Along with a few chunks of vegetables, the curry is simmered down to a thick stew. On the Japanese menu, the choices are (I'm not sure of the order) pork katsu curry, jumbo portion katsu curry, filet cut pork katsu curry, beef curry, pork curry, chicken curry, seafood curry, vegetable curry, potato croquette curry, and curry udon (in broth). Besides that, you can get it spicy, and extra spicy. Aki was pretty adamant about not ordering it spicy. The beef curry is the standard by which most japanese curries are judged, and unfortunately for me, they were out. On our table, we had orders of pork curry and the pork katsu curry.
We asked Aki why he's never posted on this place, and his response was that he was afraid americans wouldn't really understand what it is. Nor did he feel comfortable enough with his english to explain it. The brief history is that it was originally introduced to Japan from the English in the late 19th century and has since undergone transformations to suit japanese tastes. If my feelings for it is any indication, it has gone on to become a comfort food for many japanese. It's unlike Indian or Thai curries with its thick consistency, and more like european stews by its look and cooking method. Thus, it's not something that can be judged against indian or southeast asian curries, but it is intrinsic in and of itself and something you either like or not.
To get back to Hanami, the curries were excellent. The curry flavors ran deep with soothing intensity and richness. Aki pointed out that one mark of a serious curry place (as you find in Japan) is that the curry is served separately from the rice. The pork currry was served in a french style crock, with a shiny gravy spoon to sauce your rice -- as Aki pointed out picking up the gravy spoon, "that's serious stuff". The curry for the katsu plate comes in a shiny gravy boat for the do-it-yourself pour. As this was my first Hanami curry experience, I'll have to try it a few more times to judge it overall, but I'm pretty optimistic that this will become a regular stop.