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Katsuno: Undiscovered Japanese gem in Forest Hills

We don’t say this often, but — WOW! Katsuno, an unassuming eatery on Metropolitan Avenue in Forest Hills is serving up some of the best Japanese food we’ve eaten since our visit to the land of the rising sun. But why should we be surprised? It is the latest clever endeavor of Chef Seo, of the acclaimed Midtown restaurant bearing his name.

Most of the Japanese food in the “boroughs” is dumbed down to the holy trinity of sushi, tempura and teriyaki. Not so here. Their menu options play to their base — Japanese transplants. They offer sushi made with seafood flown in from Japan, and various types of exotica like (if your timing is right) ankimo, monkfish liver.

Not much has gone into interior decoration of this small space. Just a fresh coat of paint and a few silk screen prints. But plenty of heart and soul has gone into the food.

The sushi served here is flawless. Our yellowtail (hamachi), amberjack and Japanese snapper had fresh sea breath, and were suffused with power of umami, the Japanese term for the pleasurable taste associated with protein.

There is a sensual pleasure to he had in eating the tofu with yuba appetizer. In texture it approaches eating forbidden fat and skin, without the concomitant potential consequences.

Squid (ika) and celery salad with salmon roe (ikura) is sensational. It is a salty, savory combination of tastes and textures. The soy−and−yuzu−based dressing binds it together. You can play with your food by taking the little cones of squid and filling them with plump beads of salmon roe. On the other hand, the salmon and sea urchin salad (uni) could easily turn your head. A bed of greens is topped with glistening slices of salmon and endive boats of sea urchin.

What Seo’s Manhattan restaurant built its reputation on was its Inaniwa udon soup made with artisanal noodles from Akita Prefecture (that’s what the Japanese call provinces), so naturally we had to try the udon here. The noodles served in Forest Hills are not the Inaniwa, but the broth has a profoundly rich flavor. We tried the Umeshiso version with preserved plum (ume) and perilla leaf (shiso). At lunchtime they offer a design−your−own−udon special with your choice of toppings.

As terrific as the as the udon was, this soup nut preferred the soba noodles with duck. Chewy buckwheat noodles are topped with rare slices of duck meat (that continue to cook if you don’t gobble them down right away) in a wonderfully complex broth that is both delicate and soul−satisfying.

If you’re seeking a traditional entrÉe in the Western sense, you can’t do better than the grilled miso−marinated beef. Although the cut of the beef was not identified, it couldn’t have been more buttery−tender, yet lean. The miso marinade multiplied the meaty flavor with little intrusiveness of its own.

The Bottom Line

Katsuno is a homey neighborhood restaurant that serves world−class food. Possibly because of its inconspicuous exterior, combined with the doldrums of the economy, it hasn’t been “discovered” yet. If you’re an afficiando of Japanese food, or just love a great meal, it’s worth a trip. Itadakimasu (bon appÉtit)!

Suzanne Parker is the TimesLedger’s restaurant critic and author of “Eating Like Queens: A Guide to Ethnic Dining in America’s Melting Pot, Queens, N.Y.” She can be reached by e−mail at qnsfoodie@aol.com.

Katsuno

103−01 Metropolitan Ave.

Forest Hills, NY 11375

718−575−4033

katsunorestaurant.com

Price Range: Appetizers $4−$12, entrees $18−$30, noodles $9.50−$15

Cuisine: Authentic Japanese

Setting: Small, unpretentious

Service: Gracious, but understaffed

Hours: Lunch: Tue− Fri noon−2:30 p.m.; Dinner: Tue−Sat 5:30−10 p.m., Sun 5−9 p.m.

Reservations: Optional

Alcohol: BYOB

Parking: Street

Dress: Casual

Children: No menu

Music: No

Takeout: Yes

Credit Cards: Yes

Noise level: Acceptable

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