By Assunta Ng
Northwest Asian Weekly
When former Port of Seattle CEO Tay Yoshitani called me about his new restaurant, my first reaction was, “Why?” Then, “What’s the name? Where?”
“Hurry Curry of Tokyo in South Lake Union,” he said.
I am not a curry fan. However, a foodie like me is willing to try anything new.
The reason why Yoshitani decided to open another restaurant after retirement is intriguing. He and his wife, Becky, opened the original Hurry Curry in Los Angeles 27 years ago, while he was still at the Port. They’ve had a partner manage operations during that time.
Now, the Yoshitanis want to be more hands-on. Why don’t they just relax and enjoy life? Don’t they know there are headaches associated with operating a restaurant? As a publisher, I know the challenges since many of my customers are restaurateurs.
Japanese vs. Indian curries
Could it be that I made a mistake in skipping curry restaurants while I was in Japan eight years ago?
I must confess that I have a hard time differentiating between Indian and Japanese curries. My Indian friends are aware that I like Indian food — but never curry dishes.
So last Sunday began my curry adventure at Hurry Curry, the only restaurant in town specializing in Japanese curry.
Japanese curry is not spicy-hot, just spiced. That makes a world of difference for people like me, who can’t handle too much heat in food.
To my surprise, Japanese curry was not a 20th century invention. In the 1860s, the British brought curries from India to Japan. Any foreign food adopted in a new country will naturally be modified to suit to local tastes.
Influenced by French cooking, Japanese curry is more gravy-style — it’s sweet, salty, and veggie-and-dairy-based. The vegetables usually involve onions, carrots, and potatoes.
Designed especially for Hurry Curry, Ebarra, a famous Japanese food company, mixed 21 spices in an exclusive formula. No other Japanese curry restaurants have this recipe, except the original Hurry Curry in LA. An attorney, Becky said she enjoys running her restaurant more than practicing law. Also, she said the couple always wanted to be business partners, ever since they were dating.
Restaurant business is actually familiar territory for Tay, having been the president of a restaurant chain of 35 pubs at one point in his successful career.
Hurry Curry dishes
My husband and I ordered the Tokyo curry ($12) and the seafood pasta ($15) for dinner. Each entrée came with a salad mixed in an Asian-style dressing. The entrée consisted of a bowl of curry (generous portions) with an egg on top and a plate of spaghetti.
While I took my taste of Hurry Curry’s Tokyo sauce with spaghetti, Tay stared at me like an Iron Chef waiting for the judge’s verdict.
“This is comfort food,” I said.
Yoshitani smiled after I gave him a thumbs up. As he watched me eat, he couldn’t resist walking into the kitchen to get his own bowl of curry and spaghetti.
I fed myself many spoonfuls of curry spaghetti until the plate was almost empty. We asked for another order of Tokyo Curry to go for our Oscar viewing night at home the following day.
Next, I tried the seafood pasta, which was filled with shrimp, scallops, calamari, and sautéed fish, tossed in a soy-wine garlic sauce. Its ingredients were fresh, and I enjoyed the tiny calamari with legs and heads. I want the whole squid! Not just calamari rings.
The menu is full of Japanese favorites, such as the Yokohama’s Naporitan spaghetti ($8.5), with sautéed onions, green peppers, mushrooms, kurobuto sausage, and ketchup sauce. The tonkatsu curry ($13) is very popular. It was on several tables. Hey, chicken lovers, the chicken pasta is also wonderful. Becky shared with me one piece from her dinner plate. I enjoyed the tasty and well-seasoned meat. Amazingly, the white meat wasn’t dry. (Full disclosure: I am a dark meat eater.) Japanese red sauce and pasta is especially made for vegetarians. Hurry Curry has something for everyone.
Later that night, my son came home. “Mom, I haven’t had dinner yet,” he said.
Oops, our seafood pasta leftovers and half of the Tokyo curry rice in the fridge were gone. My son said he would definitely try Hurry Curry in the future.
What’s in a name?
Hurry Curry is similar in sound to harakiri, which is a term that denotes the ritual suicide of a samurai, my son said.
The name grabs your attention. Yoshitani said, “I want people to get the name quickly.” It also implies the food is something you can get fast. But you won’t mistake their dishes for Indian or Thai curry because Hurry Curry of Tokyo clearly indicates that it is Japanese-style.
On weekday lunches, Amazon employees fill the place. The spacious restaurant of 3,200 square feet can seat 90 people. The décor is contemporary, neat, and simple, with three pieces of artwork by the Yoshitani’s daughter on the wall.
Several Asians came in when we ate. One Chinese couple said they like to try new restaurants. Hurry Curry opened a month ago. One Japanese American accidentally walked in to eat, only to find out that he knew Yoshitani. He said that the LA location was one of his favorite restaurants when he lived there.
Learning from mistakes
Yoshitani said retiring from the Port of Seattle was actually his second retirement.
“I vowed that the next time I retired, I would not make the same mistake [as the first time],” Yoshitani said.
He was bored after his first retirement at the age of 57, from the Port of Oakland. He couldn’t stand playing golf by himself. So he joined the Port of Seattle at the age of 60 in 2007.
This time, Yoshitani said he is fully prepared to keep a busy and interesting life during retirement. The restaurant idea was in the works before he left the Port of Seattle.
Yoshitani will be the incoming chair for the Japan America Society of Washington state. In addition, he is a board member of Expeditors International (a logistics company), Port Blakely (a forestry business), Seattle Foundation, and Eno Center of Transportation (an organization that designs transportation policy).
He said Tomio Moriguchi, Uwajimaya chairman, is his role model for being active in the community, as well as being involved in Uwajimaya’s real estate development, even though he’s close to 80 years old.
Presently, Becky is doing the marketing for the restaurant, while Tay takes care of the finance. The couple has hired a Japanese American manager who can speak fluent Japanese.
“It’s fun to have a restaurant,” Yoshitani said. “We can invite friends over.” He is looking forward to hosting former Secretary of Transportation Norm Mineta at a dinner. Mineta will be the keynote speaker for Tomodachi lunch on March 24.
Not only that, Hurry Curry serves as the Yoshitanis’ chef and kitchen. They can entertain anytime — such as hold Tomodachi luncheons organized by Japanese Cultural & Community Center of Washington — when they want without worrying about the mundane tasks of shopping and cooking the food, washing dirty dishes, and cleaning up afterwards — someone else is doing that for them. That’s some of the benefits of being the boss at a restaurant.
Yoshitani would probably say retired life couldn’t be better! How divine for the retired couple! (end)
Assunta Ng can be reached at email@example.com.