It's a bird! It's a butterfly!
No, that winged beauty is actually a striped bass that's been artfully sliced before its flight into the deep-fryer at the Banana Leaf in Chinatown.
The "Thai sauce" inspired by this Malaysian kitchen's homeland neighbor was initially my prime objective here - a beguiling brown puree that's irresistibly tangy with tamarind, palm-sugar sweet, and tingling with ginger, chile heat, and fragrant lemongrass.
The clever knife work, though, has a surprising practical effect, allowing strips of delicately crisped boneless fillets to flare from the skeleton for easy picking.
In a neighborhood swimming with wonderful whole fish of all styles (ginger-steamed, smothered in hot bean sauce, simmering in spicy oil) my new favorite may be the crispy one that flies.
- Craig LaBan
Whole striped bass with Thai sauce, $28, Banana Leaf, 1009 Arch St., 215-592-8288.