Yes, I know it’s the Year of the Ox and I should probably be eating long noodles and other auspicious fare, but as far as I’m concerned it’s rabbit season in Flushing’s Chinatown. In the past I’ve had little luck when trying to order rabbit at Xiao Lia Jiao. Now the little critters seem to be everywhere.
The English name of this tiny little storefront is Tian Jin Restaurant, but I’m told that the Chinese name jia na di translates to Canaan. This little hole in the wall usually smells like a star anise sauna. Their pig feet are pretty darn good, so I was really excited when I saw cha xiong tu, or tea-smoked rabbit in the display case.
Just look at the golden-brown, burnished skin on these bunnies. They’re beautiful and it’s mighty tempting to ask to buy one as is, but unless you’ve got some wicked cleaver skills, I advise against it. Let the gravelly-voiced dude behind the counter hack it up for you.
The meat itself is tender, smoky, and redolent of star anise among other things. It’s also a tad salty, but that’s why God made beer. I particularly enjoyed the tasty little bits of white nerve matter from the center of the pieces of vertebrae. A rabbit here will set you back between $10 and $12.
Around the corner from Tian Jin restaurant is Roosevelt Food Court. The lone Sichuan stall Chengdu Wei, whose name translates to "Chengdu taste," also has rabbit, but it’s quite different than Tian Jin’s. The only similarity is they’re both eaten cold.
Chengdu Wei’s ma la tu din ($6), includes chunks of rabbit flesh awash in a red slick of chili oil that's spiked with tons of Sichuan peppercorn and peanuts. Incredibly spicy, this will leave your mouth burning and tingling. Upon ordering, the chef takes the chunks of stewed rabbit then adds all the fixin's. Why? I found out the hard way. If the rabbit meat sits in the angry looking sauce for too long, it gets kind of tough. Not that this kept me from eating every last morsel of my leftovers the following day.
Tian Jin Chinese Restaurant
135-02 Roosevelt Avenue, Queens NY 11354 (map)
Chengdu Wei Inside the Roosevelt Food Court
135-28 Roosevelt Avenue, Flushing NY 11354 (map)