Castro with two zz's: Curry Boyzz may not up the gayborhood's culinary profile, but its "Indian-Pak" offerings at least lend some much-needed flavor
DINE If no good deed goes unpunished, then it must follow, by some inexorable law, that no rule goes unbroken — not even my cherished guidance that oft-flipped restaurant spaces in this city tend to end up as Japanese places. Sometimes spaces go in another direction — like toward the Asian subcontinent. Early in the year, Curry Boyzz opened on a second-floor space, across 18th Street from DeLano's Market, that for a number of years had been the home of Côte Sud, a credible French restaurant, and before that a Cuban spot.
The space is one of the more appealing in the area, in large part because of a glassed-in terrace that gives an expansive view over the street scene. Côte Sud made some tasty Parisian-style hay from this terrace while meaningfully contributing toward an elevation of culinary standards in the Castro.
But the times, they are a' changin,' and by the look of it, not for the better. People are more sensitive about bang-for-buck ratios than they were just three or four years ago, and hardly any culinary tradition gives you more bang for the buck than the south Asian (or, as the menu card puts it, "Indian-Pak"). In this important respect, Curry Boyzz (a sibling of Curry Stop in the Barbary Coast) doesn't disappoint, although they might have spelled it "Bois" if they were interested in upping the twink, or at least the twink-involved, traffic.
You know you are in downmarket-land when you order at a counter and carry a number to your table. At Curry Boyzz you are further on your own scaring up utensils and napkins from bins near the entrance to the terrace. But — a thoughtful touch — there's also a refrigerator filled with carafes of water, a flourish that puts this crucial matter right in your hands.
The menu includes many Indian staples, ably prepared, along with some unexpected items. Several involve karela, or bitter melon. It turned up cooked, with various meats, and also on its own ($5.99), rather pretty striped green strips in a stew with ginger, garlic, and onions. "Bitter" is a word that has no good connotation in America, where palatal pleasures tend to revolve around an infantile sweet tooth. But bitterness is one of the basic tastes, and is therefore essential. When moderated and modulated, as here, by strong counter-presences, it becomes something rich, deep, and satisfying.
Another dish I couldn't recall having seen before was lamb cholay ($7.99), knuckles of meat cooked with chickpeas — but maybe that was just because my spice eye tends to be drawn toward lamb vindaloo. The cholay edition was well-behaved in the chili-heat department; its most obvious characteristic, in fact, was the presence of so many bones to be navigated around.
Tikka masala so often means chicken tikka masala, chunks of boneless meat simmered in a creamy curry sauce, but fish ($9.99) works just as well. We liked the big pieces, almost like whole filets instead of the more typical chicken chunks. And we loved the palak paneer ($5.99), the classic dish of spinach and chunks of white cheese, for its mysterious, transporting spice breath. Did I catch a whiff of some extra cardamom in there?
The ancillary items were also reliable. Pappadum (99 cents) were crisp and glistening with a sheen of oil. (Not all sheens of oil are undesirable.) Naan, on the other hand, weren't glistening; they had the dry, slightly chapped faces of pita bread. Luckily, naan need not be moist and oily to succeed. Indeed, since naan chunks tend to get used to mop up sauce, a bit of dryness and absorbency is preferable, as with bath towels.
We were a little surprised to find the keema naan ($2.99), a flatbread disk stuffed with what the menu card called "ground meat" — shades of freshman-year mystery meat! but the faint gaminess suggested lamb — to be nearly as dry as its unstuffed sibling. No matter: it was good for sopping, and we had plenty to sop.
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