Kurry King
5503 Airport Way S, 767-8075

Mon-Fri 11 am-6:30 pm.

530 Queen Anne Ave N, 216-7684

Mon-Fri 11 am-2 pm, 5-10 pm; Sat-Sun noon-10 pm.

What is it with curry and lunch? For some reason, while we are perfectly happy to pay for table service at dinnertime, when it comes to lunch, we look to most Indian and some Thai places to fire up their steam tables and serve a buffet.

I therefore thought I'd investigate what was being dished up at a couple of newish curry stops, and my first destination on this admittedly cursory lunch curry tour was Kurry King, a curry cafeteria in Georgetown. Its menu promises, with endearing finality, nothing but curry, and it works a little like a Baskin-Robbins. My lunch companion and I walked up to the kitchen window where we saw seven or eight different-colored curries of different origins (Thai, Japanese, Indian) steaming away in hotel pans, and where a sweet-faced woman in a huge blue baseball cap started dishing up tiny samples of the different curries for us to try. My little cup of Royal Family curry, brown and ginger-spicy, seemed to hit the spot, but I got restless from so many choices. I picked a yellow Thai-style chicken curry and Indian-style beef curry for my $5.99 combo platter, with a salad (iceberg and ranch, thanks) and a scoop of jasmine rice from a rice cooker as big as a hot tub.

My friend and I took our Styrofoam clamshells (note to Kurry King: Some plates would be great for in-house dining) around the corner to the dining bar (much smaller than the industrialized kitchen), and we sat down to eat in front of informative dioramas about our curries' spices ("Clove: Strengthens gastrol organs; Chilli: Evanesces Blood Circulation"). If each curry tended to be a little one-note in texture and flavor--my vegetable-free brown beef curry seemed equally brown in flavor, heavy as it was on baking spices like cinnamon, clove, and cardamom--nothing veered into the syrup-sweet territory of lesser curry shops. Especially tasty were my friend's pile of spicy chickpeas and the yellow curry graced with tiny corncobs and tasty chicken meatballs that each held an unidentified, moist, mild nugget inside. After eating, we went back to the counter and asked our server what was inside the meatballs. She erupted into giggles and made us guess, which we did half-heartedly: Bamboo shoots? Lotus? No... (more giggles)... pineapple. Certainly not very aggressive pineapple, but I guess I can see it now. Before we left, our big-hatted friend helped us sample the rest of the Kurry King options from Lilliputian Dixie cups. The green-peppery green curry and the panang curry with peanuts would be worth a combo platter of their own sometime. But really, Kurry people, you should go for 31 flavors: Add some more global varieties--from Singapore, the Caribbean, even China, where our congenial server/cook was from.

While Kurry King spans part of the globe with its curry varieties, Roti in Lower Queen Anne sticks to the classics of the Northern Indian canon. With spices ground each day, Roti's curries have a shimmer and spark that seemed to be missing from Kurry King's mellow selection (a little pooling ghee in the stews suggests why they also tasted extra-rich). Unlike Kurry King, Roti managed to end the vegetable drought I'd been living in: Their DIY buffet ($6.99) housed the requisite yellow dahl (lentil soup), plus one curry that nicely married summer and winter squash, and a tangy mushroom-tomato combo. Vegetable fritters (pakoras) had a peppery bite in their garbanzo-flour coating. There was even the same iceberg salad that Kurry King served, dressed not with ranch, but a variation of raita, the yogurt dressing that as far as I can tell is the only true antidote for an overeager bite of vindaloo. Needy meat eaters could choose from chicken tikka masala as orange as a Syracuse jersey, and a really lovely, tangy lamb korma, with tender cubes of long-cooked meat. To balance out a meal, the buffet offered tart green chutney, warm slices of naan, spiced basmati, and a soothing slurp of floral-scented rice pudding. Kurry King might be the ultimate utilitarian lunch--flavorful, filling, and good--but Roti gives you a convenient little feast with a beginning, a middle, and an end.