|A couple of katsu curries.|
In Japan, the bakery chains common to department stores and train stations usually do a variation of kare-pan, a squishy oblong roll injected, jelly doughnut-style, with mystery-meat curry. It's a culinary concoction emblematic of Japan's national enthusiasm for playing artful hopscotch with the minutiae particular to places and cultures. Introduced in the late 1890s, curry is now serious snack food in Japan, usually roux-based, and often made with mackerel, scallops, or fruit, depending on the region.
Kare-pan provokes instant passion in the newly initiated, but the fusion stews are just as common and more varied, usually ladled over noodles or rice. You can give the Japanese curry concept a test-drive at six-month-old Volcano Curry of Japan on Geary near 19th Ave. The menu also boasts pre-packed salads and fried chicken sandwich specials, but curry is the main event, fully customizable with an array of eccentric toppings. Try augmenting pork katsu curry ($6.95) with shredded cheese and sausage ($1.50 each). Or, start with the meatless original ($4.95), and add potato croquettes, boiled eggs, and pickles ($1 each). The possibilities are limited only by your imagination and the chef's willingness to accommodate it.
As a concept, Volcano is spotless, a novelty even in San Francisco; you walk past, glance over, and feel the pull. The food is merely decent, but unless you're very high or pregnant, the lip-smacking reality of an overly ambitious curry construction won't begin to match the pleasure you'll get from devising your order and proudly announcing it to the cashier.
Volcano Curry of Japan 5454 Geary (at 19th Ave.), 752-7671