Sunday, March 24, 2013


107-08 70th Road
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(718) 263-2999

If there's one thing that Forest Hills doesn't lack, it's Japanese restaurants, though those numbers dwindle once you cut out the ones that are primarily sushi bars. Narita on 70th Road, between Austin Street and Queens Boulevard, is less a sushi bar (though they do have sushi) than it is the kind of place you'd go when you want something hot.

Diners enter through a traditional Japanese sliding door and are given a wide range of dining options. You can sit at the sushi bar, sit at a standard western table, sit at a kotatsu table (the very low-to-the-ground tables), or grab a seat at the hibachi. Soon, a waitress will arrive with hot towels, which, even if they don't really clean your hands at all, are a nice relaxing way to start your meal. Pike and I ate here twice recently, both times midweek, and both times Narita was neither packed to the brim, nor deserted. Lively would be a good description, especially considering that every so often, a fireball would erupt from the hibachi table.

As I said, we dined at Narita twice. The first time, I ordered sashimi and it was fine, but really only because I wanted to eat healthy. Looking at the menu, I felt bad. I could get sushi at literally ten other places in the area. From now on, I said to myself, Narita was where I would go when I wanted a Japanese dinner that wasn't cold and when I wasn't interested in making the the schlep to over to Katsuno. Pike loves oysters so he ordered the Kaki-Fry. Nine times out of ten, if you deep fry something, it just gets better. This was that tenth time. The oysters were squishy and overly breaded, in my opinion. "One thing I hate", Pike began, "is when people criticize seafood for tasting fishy. Of course it tastes fishy! It's fish! That said, I will now hypocritically criticize these oysters for tasting too fishy." I would have said that they tasted too much like salt water. Boiling hot salt water that you finished eating largely because something died for the privilege of served to you. On the other hand, my appetizers (yes, I ordered two) were both pretty good. I got the Beef Negimaki and the Baby Tako. Beef negimaki is thin strips of steak wrapped like a sushi roll around a cluster of sauteed scallions and under a sweet honey-ginger soy sauce. It's hard to imagine this tasting bad and it didn't disappoint. The baby tako are baby octopus marinated in a sesame sauce. We both felt that the octopus was a little bit tougher than we'd have liked, but on the whole, I give it a thumbs up. I've met more than one person who will only eat the o-shaped pieces and won't eat the legs in a fried calamari appetizer because they find it too gross. So I'm certain that the more squeamish among you will be put off by the fact that the octopus still looks like octopus. I say man up and order it anyway.

Pike's entree was the Teriyaki Combination II, which includes lobster and anything else on the teriyaki menu that strikes your fancy. He fancied shrimp. The plate is mostly taken up by bean sprouts, so you don't really get very much for your thirty bucks. Pike felt that the shrimp and the lobster were left on the grill for too long and had been burned. Admittedly, there was a noticeable ring of char to the edges of the meat, but it didn't bother me. Also admittedly, this was the second time that Pike ordered this particular entree and it wasn't charred the first time. Still, I actually kind of liked it. I felt that it gave a bit more depth to the dish. However, whether by accident or design, it's still too expensive and if for nothing else, I can't recommend it. My dinner I completely recommend. I went for the Miso Glazed Chilean Seabass, which was delicious. There was a small, bland salad that took up half the plate, but the seabass itself, served on a small pillow of fried onion, was excellent. The miso glaze was sweet without being overpowering, the fish was perfectly cooked, and since I think that I inhaled it inside of five minutes (despite trying very hard to pace myself and even recruiting my nemesis, rice, in the process) my biggest complaint was that it was simply too small. If I have any advice for Narita, it's to reduce its menu size, drop its prices a bit, and then reposition itself as a small plates restaurant where everyone can share things.

Desserts at Narita were pretty standard and not very Japanese. So we skipped them. Our meal (a pot of tea, three appetizers, two entrees) plus tax and tip, came to somewhere in the $85 range.


Anonymous said...

We just moved to Forest Hills and have been looking for a *proper* Japanese restaurant. Sadly from my experience so far and after asking a number of people in the hood, there is none - other than Katsuno.

Being Japanese I have a standard. My observation about Narita is that they are overpriced (Manhattan prices) and it's obvious they are using rice and salad as "fillers" for the actual food you're ordering. For example, Chirashi I ordered - 90% of the dish was packed with rice that barely had any sushi vinegar taste to it. Then on top of that was a really paper thin layer of ONE pieces of each type of mediocre fish you can get at any so called Japanese restaurant. Pitiful.

Even Sushi Yasu - which a colleague of mine who also lives in the neighborhood - was horrible in my view. The rice in general was overcooked and mushy, the chicken teriyaki my hubby ordered took way too long (I finished my entree before his finally came) and it was deep fried and soaked in what was trying to be teriyaki sauce. I ordered some basic Alaskan rolls to try and they too, had way too much rice padding and the rice overcooked, bland. I chatted with the chef and he seems to be pretty pleased with himself and he was doing the add on sale of "Marilyn Mon-roll" and the $80 chef's menu but I cringed about the thought of paying $80 for more of this overcooked mess that they call Japanese food.

That said, I am seriously wondering if the demands for a decent Japanese food is so low here that restaurants like that can survive?

Jon Parker said...

Personally, I'm not quite as down on Narita as you are but I see your point. Certainly Sushi Yasu has gone downhill since they moved from their small BYOB spot on Yellowstone (Sushi Akio is there now) to Austin Street.

Putting aside the fast food spots like Tokyo Teriyaki and the random assortment of mediocre sushi joints, and focusing on full-scale restaurants, I would differentiate between "fine dining" like Katsuno, and the others, and I'd hold them to a different standard. Narita is not Katsuno, and Aged is not Danny Brown.

And thanks for your review of the place! I like it when my commenters discuss their experiences. It's helpful for the community as a whole.