Based on the thread about a new dumpling house on 53rd near 8th (I never got there because I must just be a tiny bit deficient on the GPS/direction capability), I stopped at Metro. I had seen posts from missmasala and noisejoke in that thread that had mentioned Metro, so I stopped in before going to Yunnan Flavor Snacks (which had been my very solid back-up plan). I never got to YFS, I liked what I saw at Metro.
I ordered gong jing chicken . and (pardon my translation from an english menu), as an appetizer, "grilled lamb".
i have only had gong jing chicken one other time - at Grand Sichuan in Bay Ridge (there are many posts, some positive, some negative about this dish at that place - which, generally, I think is almost as good as Spicy and Tasty and Little Pepper in Flushing, but not quite). Bob Martinez where are you?
This version, which the owner explained had been toned down just a little bit over time for American taste, was in my view (limited as it is) perfect. Adequate and deep, balanced spice (enhanced but not drowned out by a heaping plate of dried peppers, as I found it to be at GS) with a nice kick of abundant sichuan peppercorn. Excellent kick from the fried fresh hot green peppers. The dried-fried chicken seemed superbly done - crisp on the outside but not dry inside. Good balance and contrast provided by the browned garlic. One word came to my mind as I ate this: addictive.
The grilled lamb appetizer was very interesting but its nuance was probably lost on my uneducated palate. The piece of lamb was nicely grilled with some herb flavoring (but not, which I had hoped for, the more more fiery and complex grilled cumin-laden lamb like you find on the streets of flushing with the guys grilling on Royal Oak briquets by the side of the road). But the sauce was very interesting and unfamiliar - kind of like a toned-down bolognese under the grilled lamb (I know I got this wrong, but it was so unusual I am not sure how exactly to describe it). It was excellent, as well. After I saw what was going on, however, it seemed like the kebabs they were grilling might have been an even better option.
The owner was exceptionally nice and said that her husband - who had grown up in Sichuan Province- was adamant about cooking in an authentic style. She said that they had been open for about two months and that when they opened the people who first visited said that their food was too spicy and hot and, as a result, they have toned it down slightly. Unfortunately, on their menu they have decided to describe their dishes in relatively generic english - gong jing chicken is not named as such, it is called "spicy chicken", and so forth. The grilled lamb might have some more interesting name - its nuance and delicate nature would suggest that it deserves it - but, alas, it is described just as grilled lamb.
I have had so many "bastardized" and bad - if not ugly - interpretations of what an american palate might want to experience from some unfamiliar and exotic cuisine that this tiny shred of authenticity (maybe even in the same league as S&T and Little Pepper) warmed my soul. It seems to me that Sunset park has a number of these kinds of places (YSF is one) where good people are trying to re-create the food of their childhood - I hope they succeed. The world does not need another YF Changs or Chipotle Grill.