It’s not often a Chinese restaurant gets a Michelin star in America, but Café China in Manhattan certainly deserves that recognition. For all the criticism about the Michelin Guide for favoring Western fine-dining establishments when it comes to handing out stars, I give them credit for praising the restaurant’s classic Sichuan dishes that do not shy away from the authentic spicy flavor that this region in China is famous for. I’ve been to Café China a few times and never walked away disappointed, and despite sweating like a crazy person every time I dined there, I had no regrets for burning my tongue with addictively delicious food. When I heard last year that the same team behind the restaurant decided to open a new project in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, I was very eager to check it out, especially as I had heard that Birds of a Feather gives a bit more modern twists than Café China’s mostly traditional menu. For some reasons, however, it took more than a year for my wife Jun and I to finally visit the restaurant. The abundance of more accessible Sichuan restaurants in Manhattan certainly didn’t help. In any event, I’m glad we at long last made it to Birds of a Feather and had a very delicious meal there.
When Jun and I showed up at the restaurant and looked at the menu, we first looked for the pepper signs indicating spiciness (anyone who has read my KenScale reviews would appreciate how much we both love spicy food). In fact, none of the dishes we ended up ordering (other than fried rice) had no pepper signs. Ironically, our unanimous favorite dish turned out to be the least spiciest. It still shocks me as I am writing this, but it was eggplant. I don’t hate eggplant but then I don’t eagerly seek it either. A poorly made eggplant has a mushy texture that makes me difficult to swallow it. The one that came from Birds of a Feather, however, had an optimally smooth texture; what’s more, the combination of chili, soy sauce and sesame oil gave this wonderful flavor that we hadn’t quite encountered previously at other Sichuan restaurants. Jun kept marveling at the dish and wondered if she could cook this herself if a recipe is available online. At Café China, a cold appetizer dish called Husband and Wife Special, consisting of sliced beef and tripe, is a standout dish, and the one in its Williamsburg counterpart wasn’t far behind. We both immensely enjoyed the texture of the offal that was enhanced further with the chili-peanut sauce.
It’s not often you see a soft shell crab at a Sichuan restaurant; if you see one at Birds of a Feather, order it. The soft shell crab was more or less perfectly battered and fried to give a very soft texture, and the addition of dried pepper and garlic was spot on to give the fiery flavor that is faithful to the Sichuan culinary tradition. Have a side of fried rice with mustard green shoots and you have one delicious meal. We also ordered Chungking spicy chicken, which surprisingly turned to be the only slight disappointment of the night. It was by no means bad, but I guess we had sky-high expectations. I wished the chicken came out a little bit more crisp, while Jun thought it didn’t have the same punch in flavor that other dishes had (by that, I don’t mean it was not spicy enough). Still, we walked out the door one content (and absolutely stuffed) couple.
I didn’t have much problem getting a reservation online, but I still highly recommend booking a table in advance; given the relative dearth of good Sichuan restaurants in Williamsburg, this place got absolutely packed during the course of our meal with Brooklynites, with a good mix of Asian and non-Asian diners. There are beer, sake and wine options you can complement your meal with; we washed down the food with a glass of potent IPA. The vibe at Birds of a Feather feels a little bit more trendy and modern than the quaint feel of Café China’s dining space, which makes it even more attractive to the younger crowds that have been populating the Williamsburg neighborhood in the past decade or so. Whenever Jun and I visit Brooklyn (which is not often enough), we have to make tough choices on where to visit because all of new, exciting restaurants these days open up there instead of Manhattan. I still have a long list of restaurants in the borough that I haven’t had an opportunity to visit but would like to someday; I’m happy to come back to Birds of Feather on a re-visit just to try more dishes. Or next time we have a craving for Sichuan, I should maybe visit Café China which I haven’t been in more than 3-4 years.
KenScale: 8.25/10 (Jun’s Score: 8.25/10)
- Creativity: 8.0/10
- Execution: 8.5/10
- Ingredients: 8.0/10
- Flavor: 8.5/10
- Texture: 8.5/10
- Value: 8.5/10
Address: 191 Grand Street, Brooklyn, NY 11211
Telephone: (718) 969-6800