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Food

Zen and the art of curry concoction

Japanese Curry Zen joins the delicious fun in Seoul Plaza

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Kurobuta sausage and fried shrimp are among the add-on options at Japanese Curry Zen.
Photo: Steve Marcus

The Details

JAPANESE Curry Zen
5020 Spring Mountain Road #1, 985-1192.
Daily, 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m.

Japanese Curry Zen chef Takaya Zembayashi.

Unless you’ve been Rip Van Winkling your way through local culinary exploration, you know the Valley’s Japanese scene has expanded way beyond sushi, and that ground zero for this delicious development is Seoul Plaza, on Spring Mountain just west of Decatur. That epicurean epicenter is home to a Toyko-style pasta restaurant (Trattoria Nakamura-Ya) and an authentic ramen joint (Monta), not to mention nationally recognized stalwarts Raku and Kabuto. And that’s not all.

Japanese Curry Zen is an 18-seat space consisting mostly of counter and kitchen, with an even simpler menu focused on one dish. Needless to say, the simplicity makes ordering easy. A brown slurry of curry serves as a base ($5), and from there you choose your rice—white or, for no upcharge, brown—and your topping. Options include fried Asian favorites like chicken ($3) or pork katsu ($3.50), a vegetable-stuffed potato croquette ($2) or my favorite, the thoroughly addictive Kurobuta sausage ($2.50). You’re not limited to just one, so choose your own adventure. Just be sure to scan the chalkboard for off-menu specials, which rotate frequently. Recent choices have included curry spinach and various tofu preparations.

By tradition, curry houses establish their spiciness levels based upon their house recipes. Zen’s is substantially milder than what you might encounter at your neighborhood Thai joint, but you can up the heat with a trio of complimentary pepper mixtures. Dry condiments like almonds and raisins are also available, and each order comes with a sweet tonkatsu sauce and a duo of traditional pickles, rakkyo (scallions) and fukujinzuke (radishes)—either of which can add a bit of sweetness to the otherwise rich vegetable-based curry. I also suggest adding corn and cheese (50 cents apiece), because 1. I’m a sucker for add-ons and 2. Who doesn’t like extra cheese?

The menu espouses the health benefits of the curry’s spice mix, which includes turmeric, cumin, fennel and cinnamon. Sounds like a good way to fight off that early-spring bug making the rounds or the ultimate foil for a night of drinking.

Tags: Dining
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