So I recently checked out Curry-Ya, after a restaurant source who’s in-the-know recommended it. It’s a Japanese curry house — and I must admit, I’d never tried a Japanese curry before. In my defense, Japan is not the first country one associates with curry…in my 350-page cookbook bible, Curry Cuisine, there’s approximately 4.5 pages devoted to Japanese curry. Also, I’ve never actually been to Japan (besides a layover in Tokyo, which involved quite a nice sushi, considering I never left the airport).
But apparently, curry is quite popular in the island nation. British traders first introduced Japan to curry, or at least the versions of the dish that the Brits had adapted (stolen?) from colonized nations. That was back in the 1800s. Today, Japan seems to have continued the tradition of adopting some (ahem) rather interesting versions of curry, including one that Curry-Ya promotes, called “baked” curry with cheese, which looks something like a curry au gratin. Baked curry with cheese? Hmm. As a purist, I wasn’t quite ready to go there.
What I did try, though, was the curry with seasonal vegetables, which was tasty and something like an Indian curry…except not quite as authentic. (For the record, I realize it’s a bit hypocritical for a girl from Syracuse to criticize people from other cultures who try to make an Indian curry.) But I did like that it was served bubbling — quite the welcoming sight on a chilly evening. Please see photo at left. And it was served — like most Japanese curries — with sticky rice, which seemed a more appropriate Japanese contribution to the cuisine than cheese.
My intrepid dining companion decided to try Curry-Ya’s beef curry, pictured here. He, too, thought it was an odd translation of a traditional curry — and something the French, not the Japanese, might have come up with. “It does taste like a curry bolognese,” he offered. That said, he proceeded to devour the dish, a sign that Curry-Ya must be doing something right.
Am I eager to try a Japanese curry at home? Not really. Would I recommend Curry-Ya? Sure. It’s a satisfying meal, with a gentle-on-the-wallet price point. If you’re in the East Village, and particularly if you’re a budget-conscious NYU student, it’s a great choice. And the ambience is fun and casual. We sat in the window, as a film crew outside commandeered the street to shoot scenes from an upcoming Joaquin Phoenix movie. Will Curry-Ya get a mention — perhaps even an asterisk? — on my (limited) list of favorite (Thai) curry restaurants? Sigh. Sorry Japan. Not yet.