For my very first review as Americurry's New York correspondent, I had one place dead-set in my mind: Rai Rai Ken, an East Village hole in the wall mostly known for its ramen, but I remembered it as also serving a mean plate of curry.
Imagine my shock and dismay when I finally made it back there the other day and found out that Rai Rai Ken had taken curry off the menu. Thankfully, my shock turned to pleasant surprise when I was directed next door to its new sister restaurant: Curry-Ya.
I love Curry-Ya's ambience. Countless noodle shops try to look like the stereotypical rustic ramen shack out of Tampopo, but I think this approach appeals mostly to NYU students looking to get a "traditional" Japanese lunch. It's a breath of fresh air to see a Japanese joint in the U.S. that looks and feels contemporary -- similar to the numerous 24-hour fast food curry shops that crowd around Tokyo's train stations. There's just one long counter plus a small space behind the front window for eating. During the day, it's a great place to have a nice, quiet meal, but at night, when the college kids fill the joint, it can become quite maddening and downright annoying.
But let's get down to business: How's the curry? The sauce is pretty damn delicious. It's no-frills and no-nonsense, an excellent textbook example of why Japanese curry is amazing. It's of perfect thickness, never watery. Each spice is distinct and complimentary to the others. Unfortunately, near-perfection comes at a somewhat hefty price: The original plain curry will cost you $7, which is not too bad, but the toppings add between $6-8 per plate. Yikes.
The Berkshire pork cutlet (pictured) is fairly fantastic, with some of the best breading I've tasted on this side of the Pacific. But it is it worth eight extra dollars? It's worth a try at least once, at the very least. For me, though, the cheapest topping is the best: the simple hamburger steak, a nice thick meat patty that's fried over a flame and finished in an oven, to avoid drying it out. (For $5, it had better be perfect.)
The curry isn't put directly on your plate: It's served on the side, in a small hot bowl, so it's piping hot when you pour it into the volcano-shaped lump of rice on your plate. When your plate is served to you, it's just the rice and whatever topping you ordered, along with a few green beans and plums on the side as garnish. The amount of rice I was given on two subsequent trips was inconsistent: It seems to range between "just enough" and "too little." If you enjoy drinking curry by itself, as if it was some kind of extremely rich soup, then this might be the place for you.
There's not much else to speak of regarding the rest of the menu -- there are a few side salads, the usual assortment of American soft drinks, one token Japanese soda, and Japanese booze. Like most eating establishments in New York City, Curry-Ya gets right to the point. It's no Go Go Curry, but what really is? If you find yourself in the Village, Curry-Ya is a solid alternative.
214 East 10th Street, New York, NY 10003
Hours: Mon-Sun, 12:00 p.m. - 11 p.m.
Toppings Available: Prime beef, Berkshire pork cutlet, grilled hamburger, organic chicken, deep fried shrimp, assorted seafood (scallops, shrimp, squid), mashed potato and ground beef croquette, seasonal vegetables, shredded cheddar cheese, boiled egg, natto
Spice Levels: Mild, Hot, Extra Hot
+ Delicious curry sauce
+ High-quality toppings
- Price is rather high
- Inconsistent rice portions
Verdict: If you're looking for a no-nonsense, high-quality plate of curry in the East Village, then look no further than this somewhat hidden gem. Just expect to pay a premium for their superb toppings.