Number 48: Fish With Explosive Chiles From Spices!
|Spices's fish fillet with explosive chile pepper, $12.95|
Few of the dishes can match the drama of their names in appearance quite like the Eighth Avenue Spices' "fish fillet with explosive chile pepper." A variant on a popular dish sometimes called Chongqing chicken, Spice's fish is lightly battered and deep-fried in oil containing a thousand dried red chiles and Sichuan peppercorns.
Over the years, Spices! has cut down on the number of chiles it buries the fish in -- you used to have to fish through a basket of them to pluck out a few nuggets -- but the effect is still menacing.
It's mostly swagger: The aroma of the chiles, more than their heat, is what clings to the coating of the fish. You may choke a little if you cram in too many bites without pausing for rice, but you're more likely to suffer if you don't catch the Sichuan peppercorns that get lodged in the nooks.
The audible crunch of the batter, which masks the delicate fish, is only part of the dish's crackle. That comes from the citrus buzz of the Sichuan peppercorns, the pain-inducing warmth of the chiles, the nutty flashes of toasted sesame seeds, and the electric jolt of the cilantro scattered across the top. The dish may not literally be explosive, but it comes mighty close.
Spices!: 294 Eighth Ave. (at Clement), 752-8884.
Other favorites in this series:
50: Kufta tajine from Cafe Zitouna