Our latest installment of Quick Bites brings us to Williamsburg's Grand Street for spicy Sichuan.
New Sichuan spots are always welcome in any neighborhood—that numbing, fiery mix is one of my most frequent cravings—but when a place opens within a block of a movie theater (which means I'll be in the area a lot anyway), and comes backed by a Michelin-starred crew, well... personal excitement levels tend to run a little high.
Williamsburg's Birds of a Feather, which just arrived on Grand Street near Bedford, meets all of the above criteria. There's a lengthy menu filled with Sichuan crowd-pleasers. The owners also run the well-regarded Cafe China in Murray Hill (and the less-well-regarded China Blue in Tribeca). And the Williamsburg Cinema is about thirty steps away, so you can get all reeking of garlic and chili oil immediately prior to a screening where no one will sit next to you.
The decor is a bit weird, but endearingly so, with old, clunky furniture and non sequitur props (what's with all the fake libraries recently?), but there's also a minimalist feel with the light-wood communal table, booths, and two-tops. The back room is kind of an odd bird, randomly furnished and featuring a nice little enclave.
Music was nondescript and turned low, the servers helpful with dish descriptions and suggestions, and the one true kitchen misfire was replaced quickly and without any drama.
I've never been to Cafe China, so can't compare the food, but there appears to be a lot of overlap on the two menus. That might change after the current "soft opening" period, but in the meantime there's a wide range of familiar Sichuan dishes from which to choose.
Most everything I ate was good. The Husband & Wife Special, for example, features a tangle of wide, thinly-sliced strips of tripe and beef doused in enough peanut chili oil to warrant its two-pepper spiciness rating (out of three possible) on the menu. Same with the other cold appetizer I ate, a delicious bowl of delightfully-textured Mung Bean Jelly "noodles"—they're firm but crazy slippery—that had me spooning garlic and roasted peppercorn oil directly into my mouth like soup.
The Dan Dan Noodles, which falls under Dim Sum, had some terrific flavors going on, but here the delivery system for all the fire and spice was overcooked and mushy, an easy fix that the kitchen will presumably rectify. The Fried Eggplant Accordions arrived un-sliced (so: no squeezebox action) and woody, so we swapped that out for what might have the most accomplished dish of them all, the perfectly bright and crisp Sautéed String Beans, served glistening with oil and sprinkled with minced pork.
In the entree department, the Three Pepper Chicken was a solid hit, the fried bird chewy on the outside and tender within, earning its high spiciness rating mostly from the ridiculous number of chopped dried chilies on the platter. If you can't take the heat, or just want some relief, the smokey Double Cooked Pork is a satisfying choice, the pig belly sliced like bacon, with peppers and leeks adding juiciness and bite.
You'll want some rice with your meal, and you'll to pay for it, but just get the plain white stuff rather than the more fun-sounding Purple Rice "with the royal pedigree," which is bland and gummy.
Birds of a Feather has enough winners to warrant your attention even in this restaurant-saturated section of Williamsburg, and Sichuan fans hankering for some heat and tingle should be satisfied with the intensity of flavors here. A solid addition to west Grand Street.
Birds of a Feather is located at 119 Grand Street between Driggs and Bedford, and is currently "soft open" from 6:00 to 10:30 Tuesday through Sunday for dinner, and 12 to 3 p.m. for lunch on weekends. CLOSED MONDAY. NO TIPPING. No booze yet, but I saw several parties bring in bottles of wine. (718-969-6800)