SASEBO, Japan — Late at night, after most Sasebo shops are shuttered, light still twinkles from the windows of a cafe near the end of the city arcade.
At Black, a two-story eatery at Shimokyo-machi, diners can stroll in 24 hours a day for gourmet cakes, handmade cookies, sandwiches and pizza.
Its hamburgers and draft beer can cap a late night in the city bars, or the almond tart and mug of coffee can jump start an early Sunday morning.
But Black’s true specialty is more exotic. The cafe wasn’t named for its java or its chocolate cake.
Spicy squid-ink curry is the main event on the menu and is a must-try.
The thick, typically brown gravy is a mainstay of Japanese cuisine. The cafe puts its own twist on the dish by adding the ink, which turns the curry jet black.
It’s not a color normally found in food, and along with the levels of spiciness — mild or atomic — the curry is an imposing dish.
The spicier version of the curry is so hot, in fact, a that competition has developed. Male diners who can finish five dishes within 20 minutes eat for free. Female diners must eat four plates in that time to win a free meal.
There is no getting up from the table. There is no water.
So far, 77 people have succeeded in the curry challenge, according to the cafe. The fastest time was 6:10.
This was definitely my kind of entrée. I ordered a large plate of the spiciest black yakiniku curry.
Black has an array of curry varieties including seafood, grilled beef, chicken, egg and white rice.
My first bite of curry was so hot I choked. Those 77 people might have walked out of the café after finishing several plates of the atomic black curry, but I suddenly began to doubt whether they survived through the following day.
But, amazingly, the curry seemed to mellow over the meal. Mixed with white rice it was rich and delicious, some of the best curry I’ve had in Japan.
For dessert, I tried the chocolate cake, which was presented plain, without icing. It was a letdown initially, but I forgot the homely appearance after the first few bites — the chocolate literally melted in my mouth.
The cafe meal left me craving curry for days. For me, Black is the only place in Sasebo to really satisfy a yen for curry.
Hours: Open 24 hours
Prices: Curry entrees 850-1,470 yen; sandwiches 700-900 yen; cake and coffee 630 yen; beer 500 yen.
Specialties: Squid-ink curry.
English menu: Yes.
Clientele: Quiet diner atmosphere.
Location: Shimokyo-machi 3-4. From Nimitz Park, cross the Albuquerque Bridge and turn right down the arcade. Take the last left before the end of the arcade. Black is on the right. A coat of arms with a bird and shield is hung in the second-story window. The sign is not in English.
Web site: none.