With the notable exception of Danny Brown Wine Bar & Kitchen the stretch of Metropolitan Avenue in Forest Hills is pretty much a culinary wasteland. So I was surprised when a friend who runs the Japanese foodie web site PECOPECO! gave a ringing endorsement of Katsuno, a four-month old spot from the folks behind Manhattan’s Restaurant Seo. Several meals later, I’m quite glad I took her advice.
Salads and raw salmon are two food groups I avoid at Japanese restaurants. Sesame ginger dressing doesn’t really float my boat. As for salmon, perhaps I’ve seen too many philistines ordering Philadelphia rolls. Despite these twin aversions, the tori no sakamushi, or salmon and sea urchin salad, caused me to throw caution to the wind.
Those little orange blobs of creamy California uni were super fresh and contrasted nicely with their crunchy endive cradles. And the salmon and fresh greens gussied up with capers and a light application of a yuzu-scented dressing weren’t too bad either. At $12, it’s a good deal too, since it easily feeds two. I’m still curious as to why the word "uni" doesn’t appear in the Japanese translation that Chef Seo’s wife, Yuka, provided.
Soba with magret duck breast ($15) didn’t seem terribly Japanese, but it was nonetheless delicious, as was the umeshiso udon ($10.50). The latter was perfumed with its namesake ingredients, ume, or pickled plum, and shiso leaf.
On my first visit, Katsuno was out of ankimo, or monkfish liver. Lucky for me they had it the next time I stopped by. This $6.50 portion of what I like to call the foie gras of the sea had been poached that very day.
Given how good Katsuno’s other noodles are, I was particularly excited to hear that they'd be serving inaniwa udon noodles imported from Japan’s Akita prefecture. These noodles, which were once consumed by the Imperial Household Ministry, take their name from the village where they were first made in 1665. Yuka recommended trying the noodles in a cold broth to better experience their renowned springy texture. Inaniwa noodles are so famous that Japanese scientists have even studied their hardness compared to other wheat noodles.
Unlike other udon, inaniwa noodles are flat, sort of like a thicker, more al dente linguine. As promised, they had a wonderful elastic snap. The cold broth flavored with little more than dashi, bonito, green onions, and spinach played a supporting role. I added a few shakes of shichimi pepper to my bowl, but only because I'm a chili-head.
Katsuno’s inaniwa noodles are available, hot or cold, as a $12 off-menu special. I’m told that a cold bowl of inaniwa noodles is a great way to cool down after a night of too much drinking. I’ll have to keep in mind when Katsuno gets its beer and wine license.