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Thursday, March 8, 2012

Number 48: Fish With Explosive Chiles From Spices!

Posted By on Thu, Mar 8, 2012 at 3:30 PM

Spices's fish fillet with explosive chile pepper, $12.95 - ALBERT LAW
  • Albert Law
  • Spices's fish fillet with explosive chile pepper, $12.95

SFoodie's countdown of our favorite 50 things to eat and drink, 2012 edition


If you couldn't tell from its name, Spices! has a penchant for hyperbole. The local chain of Taiwanese-Sichuan restaurants specializes in STiNKY! tofu, numbing-spicy pork intestine (actually a direct translation of the dish's Chinese name), and SFoodie's favorite, "gangsta casserole murder style," a hot pot served by the Oakland branch.

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: 

49: Baker & Banker Bakery's blueberry cream cheese muffin
50: Kufta tajine from Cafe Zitouna

Follow us on Twitter: @sfoodieand like us on Facebook.
Follow me at @JonKauffman.

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Jonathan Kauffman


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