Muracci's Japanese Curry & Grill gives Los Altos a taste of Osaka
On a cold, rainy or otherwise discouraging day, step into Muracci's Japanese Curry & Grill for warm nourishment. As if you are in Japan, the restaurant is small and cozy. The decor is simple and utilitarian, with tables easily pushed together or pulled apart depending on the size of your party.
Japanese curry, rich and well-spiced, traces back to 19th-century Japanese navy chefs adapting a British dish that came from India. We can thank Yasuyuki and Tamiko Murata for bringing it to Los Altos.
The Muratas had moved to the Bay Area from their native Osaka in 2000, and a few years later opened a dime-sized, mostly takeout joint in San Francisco's Financial District. In downtown Los Altos, Muracci's #2 offers full-service dining. Muracci is the nickname of the owners' son, the thumbs-up guy pictured on their menus. As if the restaurants were sites of rock concerts, Muracci's workers wear black T-shirts reading "San Francisco, Los Altos" on the back.
Japanese curry follows a grand tradition of fusion cuisine in Japan. Dishes like hamburger that the Japanese adapt to their tastes have their own food group: yoshoku. The meat-based curry sauce, which simmers for two days, is exquisite over deep-fried and breaded seafood and meats, a technique acquired from Portuguese traders in the 16th century.
The basic, very hearty curry meal can be supplemented with extra curry sauce, rice and meat. There's also a weekly curry special. Recently it was chicken curry nanban ($12.50 at dinner) featuring buckwheat noodles, chicken, shimeji mushrooms, green onions, bonito stock and curry sauce.
The tonkatsu dinner ($13.75) started with an appetizer of shiitake mushrooms, stuffed and grilled. Then came a creamy miso soup, dotted with cubes of soft tofu. A mortar and pestle came next, with instruction to grind up the sesame seeds and mix in the sweet sauce. Perfectly cooked panko-crusted pork was accompanied by shredded cabbage (for health), potato salad and rice.
The seafood curry dinner ($14.95) started with a crisp iceberg lettuce salad. A large bowl simmered with three prawns, lots of calamari and a few scallops in curry sauce. Thinly sliced daikon with shredded lemon rind made a refreshing side dish.
Your menu choices runneth over. Steamed rice: white or brown. Curry spice levels: mild to hot. (Medium will be plenty hot for most palates.) A gratin-like curry-flavored bechamel sauce with melted cheese on top. A hamburger with curry sauce. Vegetarian items: tofu salad ($8.50) and vegetarian curry. Extras: boiled egg, spinach, vegetables, potato, cheese.
Another exercise in yoshoku involves omelets. In the grand American equivalent of yoshoku, Muracci's offers the six-piece California roll ($3.50) and other sushi Americana. And there's a kid's plate ($7.95) of chicken teriyaki or hamburger curry, fruit, salad and rice.
As the name implies, Muracci's Japanese Curry & Grill offers dishes besides sushi that may be more familiar in the Bay Area than Japanese curry. The usual grilled beef, chicken and salmon teriyaki are here, plus meal-size donburi bowls of rice topped with chicken, pork, seafood and egg.
The T-shirted Muracci's staff is welcoming, efficient, and effusive in their good-byes. As in: "Thank you! Thank you very much!"
Muracci's Japanese Curry & Grill
244 State St., Los Altos.
Hours: Lunch: Mon.-Sat. 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Dinner: Weekdays 5:30-p.m.; Sat. 5-9:30 p.m.