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China and Japan are the poles of Gotham’s Asian culinary universe. It is impossible to walk more than a block or two without bumping into a spot purveying food from one or the other. Yet as often as we crack open chopsticks and chow down, we rarely juxtapose the two at one meal. Culinary fusion just hasn’t gotten that far. Situated near the Queens County Courthouse in Forest Hills, Show Win, a/k/a Kaki Toku, offers a rare opportunity to compare the yang and yin of the two styles, a distinction highlighted by two separate dining rooms—a utilitarian Chinese side boasting varnished tables and the ethnic touch of an over-the-bar altar to the Kitchen God, and a more culturally evocative Japanese area with a polished sushi bar and several tatami rooms set out around an interior courtyard paved with river stones. But what’s equally remarkable is that the spot offers the best example of either cuisine in its restaurant-heavy vicinity.
Seated on the Chinese side, we were surprised to find that the duality extended to separate menus from separate kitchens. The Japanese one began with a drinks listing of fanciful concoctions like a potent mix of sake and plum wine called the samurai ($4.25). Phyllis sampled one with increasing glee while Frank and I steered a safer course with Sapporo drafts and edamame, served warm with coarse salt. For starters, I remained Japanese with a round of sushi, savoring the uncommonly plump tuna morsels in my tekkamaki ($4) and the sweet bits of salmon adhering to the crisp exterior of a salmon-skin roll ($4). Carolinan Frank thought China more downhome and ordered barbecued ribs that proved succulently meaty enough for good gnawing ($5.95).
It took several minutes to convince the waiter that Phyllis wanted a classic Chinese dragon and phoenix main rather than a sushi dragon roll, but the effort was worth it. The tandem swirling on the plate was a culinary tour de force: tender lobster claws and tail in a light ginger scallion sauce accompanied by deep-fried, spice-glazed pieces of General Tso’s chicken ($21.95). Frank’s Chinese special of mango chicken ($12.95), a fan of chicken breast petals topped with slivers of ripe fruit in a subtle ginger sauce, was exotic enough to be pronounced deliciously decadent by all. I ordered steamed fish with ginger and scallion ($18.95), my standby when testing a new Chinese place, and it got an A: flaky flesh napped with thin soy gravy and topped with enough shards of ginger and scallion to last till the final bite. We left on a cloud of Sapporos and samurais, musing about the opposition of China’s hearty yang and Japan’s delicate yin. But we also left exclaiming over a first-rate meal.
When I returned, it was still sushi for starters, but winter weather had me looking for more robust food. My guest enjoyed the crunch of the overstuffed spring rolls bursting with a julienne of celery and mushrooms, shreds of pork and pieces of shrimp ($3.95). Her rustic hot pot of chicken in its own clay vessel was a star-anise-flavored stew, the fowl and accompanying veggies gaining savor from a slow-cooked mix of ginger, scallions, and Chinese wine ($10.95)—perfect for the blustery day. I simply gave in to the moment and ordered half a Peking duck ($13.95). It wasn’t quite as crisp as the version I love at the nearby Peking Duck Forest, but I delighted in a well-executed classic nevertheless. I’ll be back to sample the Japanese side of the menu in the spring. But while the Hawk blows down the boulevard, I’ll stick with the assertive heartiness of yang.