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four meals with Mami

enhF94 | Mar 28, 200809:25 AM

In the past couple of weeks, I've visited Cafe Mami in porter exchange four times, as a little get-to-know-you project. These thoughts are as much about my whitey learning experience as the food. Thanks to hounds who went before.

Growing up in inland states, I thought I was ultra-clumsy with chopsticks. Living in a metrocosmurban area, I've learned that kitchen prep makes all the difference. I found myself really thinking about chopstick use on the curries: as you can look up on wikipedia, lots of japanese curries are presented with a rice foundation, half of which is sauced, and half is not. Using chopsticks, I was able to easily pick up hunks of stuck-together rice - enough for a decent sized bite - rub it in the curry for flavor, and bring it to my mouth without the rice falling apart. (Once the rice becomes soaked in curry, it doesn't stick together anymore.)

The curry here is milder and thicker than indian, tibetan or nepalese curries - to my whitey sentiments, more like gravy than curry. It's made with beef and chicken broth. Most of these come with miso soup that doesn't suck and a meh salad.

***Tatsuta curry $8.50 + an egg on top $1, with green tea milkshake - this was my first and favorite of the bunch. I chose sunny-side up for the egg rather than hard fried, and mixed the yolk into the curry to add saucy goodness. The chicken was surely breaded in panko, and was juicy inside, not overfried. On two other visits, I noticed the kitchen crew prepping chicken by hand. The green tea shake alone wasn't to my palate (though many hounds love it and several folks ordered them to go), but the combined shake/curry flavors tagteam like grilled cheese with chocolate milk.

***hamburg curry $8.50, + egg $1 and cheese $1 - this was my failed attempt to really amp up the savory flavors. It was pleasant and I'd order it again, but I was hoping that burger juice would spill all over the rice, and it didn't. Also, without panko, there was no panko crunch anywhere in the curry, and I missed it. The cheese added nothing, and did not play well with chopsticks.

***Wafu hamburg set $8.50 - rather than curry, I tried the homemade ginger/ponzu sauce. Again, I hoped for more browning on the outside of the hamburg (although it was medium rare, and I guess I'd rather med-rare than crusty outside). It was comfortable, though I tired of the wafu sauce a little bit. I learned a lesson here about rice: this plain rice, even with only a touch of sauce, can be really tasty. I was amazed to find I was enjoying the rice more than the hamburg.

***"Cutlet Don" donburi bowl - I chose pork at their suggestion, and went without egg or cheese. I didn't miss the egg at all. This dish had a different presentation - all in one bowl, with layers of rice, then cutlet, then The cutlet was nicely made - again with panko, again not overfried. But disappointingly (for me), the cutlet had lost all its crunch. So if you order this, expect soft, hot pork and slide-off breading, rather than crispy.

According to S&B -maker of boxed curry mix - a Japanese fellow ate curry while coming to America for the first time, and a curry recipe was then published in a "guide to western cuisine." Since Buddhist no-meat taboos were fading away, meat curries became popular fancy-food fare.

Other chowhounders confirm my experience: I arrived before they opened and waited; I was never the only one. The fellow who owns/runs it was there each time I showed, and was a blur of ordered activity, doing prep, line, and management simultaneously. He was pretty impressive and reminded me of the best diner cooks.

Sadly, I was too satiated afterward for Japonaise. This weekend, I'm stopping by Wagamama to find out how *not* to do it.

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