Eyeball to Eyeball
In my capacity as scout for the Organ Meat Society, I received an urgent e-mail from Peter and Chin-a. They'd discovered a restaurant in Flushing that offered a totally radical collection of organs. It wasn't long before we screeched to a halt in front of A Fan Ti, named after a bearded and turbaned Manchurian cartoon character. From the repetition of the word lamb on the awning, it was immediately apparent that A Fan Ti is one of Flushing's new northern Chinese restaurants specializing in lamb.
The interior shows signs of once being a Korean restaurant, with barbecue fixtures and exhaust fans for each table. Comically, the boxy fans on the ceiling have been covered with colorful wrapping paper, making it feel like you're woozily walking upside down on Christmas morning. In addition to arcane goat and lamb parts, the menu features Sichuan and Uighur fare, some of it brilliantly executed. In the former category is an astonishing salad of cilantro, parsley, green onions, and mild green chiles, doused with a sweetish vinegar dressing ($4.55). It's hard to believe a pile of green stalks could taste so good. We found the celery slicked with wasabi less beguiling, demonstrating an unexpected Japanese bent, and making one diner sneeze repeatedly. By contrast, we adored the lamb steak in fresh hot pepper ($14.95), which turned out to be several dense fibrous chops laked in red oil, with leek lily pads floating by.
The Uighur stuff is pretty great too. Preeminence is ceded to a grilled goat leg, including exposed tibia and fibula. Rubbed with cumin and powdered red chile, the meat has been rendered smoky and oily. For smaller feeds in a similar vein, there are $1 lamb brochettes. We were not sure what cuisine the whole fish with pine nuts ($13.95) represented, only knowing that it was damnably good. But that first visit, when we tested the organ waters by asking for goat heart, the waitress excused herself, and soon after loud guffaws could be heard from the kitchen. The waitress returned to claim that they'd run out of organs.
Not to be deterred, we showed up a week later, numbering in our rollicking group the composer and multi-instrumentalist Dr. John. The New Orleans native arrived sartorially resplendent in a camelhair coat worn like a cape, jaunty fedora, and necklace of animal teeth, holding a cane made from an entire rattlesnake. We asked for, and received, goat head meat, grilled goat kidney, steamed goat tongue, lamb tripe soup, and finally, the cryptic "goat eye in brown sauce." Would it be a single eye bobbing in a lake of canned gravy? Or multiple eyes gazing up at us from an epicurean landscape more Dal than Batali? Dal won, of course, because 10 large ragged peepers rolled upward in the brown goo to gaze at us. Popping an entire eye in one's mouth proved somewhat weird, so we took to slicing them in half, revealing a large white crescent textured like flounder cradling a wobbly jelly sac. The optic nerve could be clearly discerned. But hey, they tasted good! As other diners looked on in mock horror, Dr. John and I went eyeball for eyeball. Still, we had four remaining at the end of our ocular binge. He took them home for later.
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