SFoodie's countdown of our favorite 50 things to eat and drink, 2012 edition
The next time your best friend pretends she's not dieting but is "cleansing" her body of "toxins" with a little bout of self-starvation, one-up her by embarking on an "internal sweat lodge," otherwise known as Z&Y's fish with flaming chile oil.
A bowl of broth the happy, prosperous color of glowing coals comes to greet you, a logjam of dried chiles on its surface. There's an innocuous tuft of cilantro on the surface, but the wisps of steam that float up from the bowl carry aromas that normally convey the phrase, "Run now, idiot." But you are no idiot, or perhaps a bigger one than you suspect, because you are in there with your chopsticks, pulling fat, white pieces of fish out from the depths of the broth, holding them up long enough for most -- but not all -- of the crimson oil to sluice off the fish. (Advanced practitioners do this over their rice, denying themselves an easy out.)
You take a bite, and the fish -- cooked merely by pouring the hot broth and oil overtop -- melts as if it were a bundle of unspun silk, or perhaps a pouf of seafoam. And then the burn begins. It starts at the lips, which initially vibrate along with the capsicum-induced throbbing, courtesy of the Sichuan peppercorns that give the broth such a cool, citrus-bright aroma. Then the burn flows around the insides of your cheeks, makes your tongue involuntarily spasm, and spreads out onto the skin of your face.
Your eyebrows sweat. Your ears sweat. You can feel those PCBs and BPAs and all those other unnamed chemicals that are surely poisoning your brain course out of your body like bees from a bear-threatened hive. Once the post-chile endorphins kick in, the pain doesn't hurt quite so much. By the end of a half-hour of this kind of treatment, you may not lose any weight, but you emerge from the meal purer of heart.
Z&Y Restaurant, 655 Jackson (at Grant), 981-8988.
Other favorites in this series:
19: None but the Brave from Heaven's Dog
20: Saha's vegan kibbeh
21: Starter Bakery's hazelnut kouign amann
22: Pupusas at Cafe and Restaurant Montecristo
23: 2 a.m. apple fritter at Bob's
24: Le Sanctuaire's vadouvan
25: Crab louis salad at Nettie's Crab Shack
26: Soy sauce chicken from Happy Bakery & Deli
27: Locanda's Jewish-style artichoke
28: Local: Mission Eatery's asparagus-egg sandwich
29: Memphis Minnie's 18-hour brisket
30: Custard buns from City View
31: Mission Chinese Food's kung pao pastrami
32: Panisse frites from Frances
33: Izakaya Yuzuki's chawanmushi
34: Fatted Calf's chorizo
35: Silvanas from House of Silvanas
36: Linden Street Brewery's black lager
37: Aged oolongs from Red Blossom Tea Company
38: Broken Record's crawfish grits
39: Cebiche mixto from La Mar