91 South 6th St, Williamsburg
Rating: 4 out of 5 L's
In the alley beside Fatty 'Cue—the Williamsburg offshoot of Manhattan's Fatty Crab—grills smoke and spits twirl over hot coals. The smoldering aroma of charred meat and Southeast Asian spices grabs you on the sidewalk. Inside, it feels like you're navigating through a house party, squeezing past the bar, around the bus boys hovering by the kitchen, through the seating area in the back room, and up a narrow staircase to more tables. From this lofted space, a sparkly pig chandelier hangs at eye level, making you wonder if any of the preciousness will seep into the food.
But Fatty's barbecue ain't cute, and it'll surprise you. Take the Tecate. The refreshing but run-of-the-mill brew ($5) is served in a closed can, with the juice of a Southeast Asian citrus fruit called kalamansi puddled around its rim. A small mound of salt and chilli powder is poised to drop into the beer when you crack it open. Seems like a lot of fanfare for a cheap cerveza, but the first sip is bracingly sweet, sour, salty and spicy. Simple but brilliant, it puts lame lime-wedged cans to shame. Knock back a couple of these rather than sampling the tiny Chupacabra cocktail ($10)—despite this tequila drink's chile-infused ginger liqueur, it's too sweet to stand up to the menagerie of meats you're about to eat.
The flavors are big, but portions are on the small side, so servers suggest ordering a couple of dishes per person. The barbecued duck ($14), rubbed with smoky and spicy red curry, has a bacon-like crust on the outside but stays juicy within. Their killer brisket ($18) is glazed with chile jam and served with steamed buns to make sandwiches, while the pulled lamb shoulder ($18) comes with fresh pita and garlicky-minty goat's milk yogurt. Throw in some falling-off-the-bone pork spare ribs ($14), a gingery rice salad ($7), and some lightly dressed cucumber spears ($6) to balance things out, and you've got a flavor explosion (with an exploding bill to match).
Still, you've got to try the smoked crab soup ($15), served family-style, with ornate, teacup-sized bowls for everyone to help themselves. Chunks of crabmeat, shredded daikon, shiitakes, and long noodles steam in its dark and deeply spicy "bone broth" (which you can order by itself as a first course for $3). It's not going to make your lips numb like hot wings, or shock your sinuses like wasabi, but it does promise a lingering slow burn, both comforting and seductive. It's not a cheap date, but chances are, this Fatty will have you coming back for more.