Birds of a feather, flock together
I've been on a roll recently with Szechuan restaurants. About a month ago, I managed to muster up the patience to get into Szechuan Mountain House, which is one of the best additions to St. Mark's in recent memory (read my review here). And two weekends ago, I stumbled upon yet another gem.
I was grabbing dinner with a friend from out-of-town and he requested Szechuan for cuisine (I trained him well). I decided to try out a Williamsburg spot I'd heard quite a lot about - Birds of a Feather. Just off Grand Street, the restaurant is simply laid out and centered around a wooden family style table which runs the length of the restaurant - from the store front to the bar. The decor is a quirky blend of modern minimalism and Asian patterns & textures. The food? Insane.
We grabbed the husband & wife special to munch on while we cooled off from the summer heat. This is a common dish in China - beef & tripe are sliced razor thin and generously lathered with a chili-peanut sauce. So. Good. The peanuts lend a deceptive sweetness to the sauce, but the chilis will leave your mouth tingling.
For mains, we decided on the whole tilapia (if you go to a Szechuan restaurant - always order the fish), spicy green beans & the spicy cumin lamb. The lamb here has to be one of my favorite Szechuan dishes in New York. The lamb is sliced into thin strips & fried in a wealth of different spices until it curls at the edges. It's spicy, but it's also so much more than that - the cumin, bell peppers, ginger, garlic & spicy miso all add their own dimension of spice to the meat.
The fish is nothing to scoff at either. They have two preparations of tilapia on the menu - we opted for the braised version, but they also serve it steamed. The fish is prepared whole, with bones in, but I promise picking out the tiny little needles will be worth your while. Where the lamb dish has a punch-you-in-the-face type of flavor, the tenderness of the fish meat allows the spices to slowly seep into your belly and warm you from the inside out.
At this point, we were already well on our way to being (obscenely) full. But the food was so good... we ordered more anyway. To finish of the meal we ordered the double cooked pork and the wood's ear. Both of these are traditional Chinese dishes my mom has prepared for our family many a time.
Double cooked pork is quite literally pork which has been cooked twice, duh. The meat is thinly slice and boiled in water until it's almost done and then thrown into the wok to be stir fried with a wealth of traditional Szechuan spices. It's rich, not quite crispy, and finger-licking good.
Wood's ear is actually a type of fungus which is poached and mixed with vinegar. It's served cold alongside other pickled veggies. If you're not used to Chinese cuisine, you might find the dish a bit strange, but it's really quite good - it's a crisp refreshing option for the table.