NEW YORK—In my experience with Sichuanese restaurants in New York, I often leave feeling like my mouth has been scorched and burned. And while the extreme heat can be exciting and endorphin-inducing, I’m often left with a yearning for more complexity of flavor.
The recently opened Birds of a Feather in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, demonstrates that spiciness can have nuance. The restaurant, with minimalist decor and warm, soft lighting, is owned by Yiming Wang and Xian Zhang, the couple behind the Michelin-starred Café China in Midtown Manhattan.
Wang and Zhang have enlisted chef Ziqiang Lu to helm the kitchen. Lu, who hails from Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province, led Café China to its Michelin star status. Together, they tested out over a hundred recipes, paring down the menu to about 50 classic dishes, with some that incorporate the chef’s own twists.
Among the appetizers, a traditional dish of pork poached and dressed in garlic is revamped, with the slices of pork curled around pieces of okra and smeared in a salty, potent sauce ($10).
Meanwhile, a dish of eggplant in garlic sauce typically involves stir-frying slices of the vegetable in a wok. Here, Lu makes cuts so the eggplant stretches out like an accordion, then dips it into batter and deep-fries it ($12). The vegetable develops a crispy exterior and a soft, pillowy interior.
The dishes here give off different sensations of heat. The Sichuan Cold Noodles have a bitter dimension, with peppercorns, garlicky chili oil, and peanut paste melding together ($7).
The Spicy and Sour Tofu Pudding first tingles your lips with Sichuan peppercorns in full effect ($4). But as you swallow the custardy bits of housemade tofu, your tastebuds are given a little jolt of tartness, thanks to the addition of Chinese black vinegar and pickles.
With the Poached Wontons in Chili Sauce, you feel the burn slowly overtake your entire mouth cavity, lingering and sending little pulses of heat ($6).
Luckily, in the entrees section, there are less intimidating options. The Tea Smoked Duck, made in-house in a wok, wows with its incredibly smoky, earthy profile ($15).
Sliced Pork Belly on Pickled Mustard Greens is not often found on Sichuanese restaurant menus, but it is a staple in its birthplace ($15). Slices of fatty, velvety-soft meat sit in a soupy clay pot with greens and silken tofu at the bottom. Mix it all together, and the sweet and sour mixture will be the perfect coating for the grains of rice in your bowl. You’ll be glad to have been introduced to this gem.
When it comes to addictive sauces, there are other candidates on the menu. The restaurant’s fish dishes arrive at the table sitting in a pool of flavorful liquid: the Braised Whole Fish in Chili Sauce is cooked in chili oil and doubanjiang (fermented soybean paste), giving it a salty essence with a hint of spicy pizzazz ($25), while the Steamed Whole Fish with Asian Chili is doused with soy sauce and a bevy of green peppers, bright and fiery at the same time ($25).
For dessert, a sweet treat of southern Chinese origin will do. Czi ba is a mochi-like cake made from glutinous rice, more stretchy than chewy, and coated with soybean powder and brown sugar syrup ($6). It won’t put out the heat from the meal you just had, but it will make you momentarily forget the pain.
Birds of a Feather
191 Grand St. (between Driggs & Bedford avenues)
Monday to Thursday
6 p.m.–10:30 p.m.
6 p.m.–11:30 p.m.
Noon–5 p.m., 6 p.m.–11:30 p.m.
Noon–5 p.m., 6 p.m.–10:30 p.m.