Food & Drink

Review: Fist of Curry turns up the heat at the former Huron Room

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Since "curry" is an expansive concept, I looked it up in my Food Lover's Companion and found it defined as a "catch-all term" for "hot, spicy, gravy-based" dishes. Gravy! Not that my mama would recognize.

But let gravy be an expansive concept. Fist of Curry's chef-owner Les Molnar is making a wide range of curries of his own devising; they have relatives in India, Jamaica, Japan, and Thailand — and soon Malaysia and "Chinese carry-out" will be added.

He combines them with bargain Spanish wines ($4 a glass, $15 a bottle) and a beer list that represents Japan, Thailand, Mexico, India, Ceylon, and the U.K. — as well as plenty of Michigan. Ask your server if you want to pair your beer's country of origin with your curry's.

Until recently the Fist building was the Huron Room, but Molnar, with fellow owners Jessica Molnar and Jacques and Christine Driscoll, has transformed its former nautical look into a '70s vibe, with lots of orange and fringe. Not my favorite decade for décor, but "tacky fun" was one friend's comment. Look for a yellow-black-orange rug-type tapestry of Don Quixote on the wall and, in a unisex restroom, a photo of Jamaican ladies smoking blunts. The name comes from a 1972 Bruce Lee film, Fist of Fury.

Molnar keeps it simple with just five "snacks," seven curries, and two flavors of soft-serve. Portions are generous, with lots of basmati rice and plenty of "gravy."

I found some dishes scrumptious and others rather flat. One standout is beer cheese soup, a little far afield from the curry concept. It's rich with cheddar, cut by the slightest undertone of bitterness from lager. Another snack, curry-fried cauliflower, was less successful, with no cauliflower flavor and the "Manchurian glaze" sweet but not interesting. Molnar says it's ordered a lot, though, as are cheese sticks with a tikka dip, reminiscent of mozzarella with marinara.

Don't let that mislead you, though. The curries are not designed to remind you of bar food. I loved the "curry-osity" one night (it changes, like Molnar's "mystery meat" at Green Dot Stables). It was a luscious, full-bodied brisket with just the right amount of heat, topped with a little shrimp.

Thai coconut crab, a soft-shell, is cooked perfectly to be both soft and crisp, with a zesty sumac and crab oil sauce on the side.

Japanese kare (curry) was a disappointment: The meat was pork katsu, a breaded and deep-fried cutlet, but it didn't resemble closely what I'd had in Japan, where whole restaurants are devoted to that one dish. It was too crisp and the sauce was rather glutinous, with the flavor of "brown gravy."

About the hottest curry is Jamaican jerk, a big piece of brisket sided with a wide layer of fat and inflamed with habaneros. I found it a bit too spicy to get past the heat to find the flavors. The other hot number, though, Thai-style smoked tofu, is deep with roasted tomato flavor.

The curries are mostly not super hot, concentrating on flavor rather than capsaicin levels. Dishes are meant to be eaten as offered; your server doesn't ask, as in an Indian restaurant, "mild, medium, or spicy?" Molnar calls his seasonings "more like Christmas spices: clove, nutmeg, turmeric — warming spices." You can add chili paste from the table, though, if you want more fire, and Molnar says he's willing to add some Thai chiles on request.

From Morocco comes a 300-minute egg: roasted on low heat, in the shell. For my money it was not different enough from hard-boiled to warrant a second chance. But an extremely popular side dish, and not just with my party, was "non-naan" — a crunchy fry-bread, made in house from rice and chickpea flours, plus tapioca. Everybody loves naan, and this was just as good. Molnar is adding a grilled wheat flatbread, too.

Cocktails hark to the curry-making countries. I admit to liking the Painkiller, kind of Christmas + beach, with an eggnog feel and a pineapple taste. Tom Yum Collins is even better: gin-infused with ginger root and galangal root, plus lime syrup and Thai chiles, mellow at the start and a kick at the end.

The aim at Fist, whose owners have made so many people happy at Green Dot and Johnny Noodle King, is to offer an affordable night out eating what millions of people eat every day. They're having fun with curry for now, and may surprise you with a new thought down the road.