Fish Out of Water
Mac's Fish & Chips
1330 Larpenteur Ave. W., St. Paul
If you're an obedient moviegoer, you already have the following dates carved into your calendar: December 11, 1998, for Star Trek: Insurrection (#9); May 21, 1999, for the Star Wars prequel (#4); and November 19, 1999, for Dangerously Yours--or, as those of you with abaci and good memories know it, Bond #19. Also, as a faithful film-lover, you're obligated to keep your heart open for sequels that are promised to arrive someday--like Indiana Jones 4, Batman 5, and Highlander 4: The Search for Connor. I don't know exactly why these beads in the endless necklace of revisit-and-rehash keep coming, but I suspect it has something to do with repetition being the mother of comfort, known entities being more easily confronted than unknown ones, and past disappointments working not to alienate but to forge a deeper relationship, the way marriages that have been stressed are stronger than ones that haven't. Or maybe people just really want things to be the same.
Anyway, the comfort and logic of sequels and copies is universal, and it works for chip-shop owners as well as it does for starship captains, Jedi knights, and British secret agents. "When we came down here to live, we didn't see any of what we were used to, no fish-and-chip shops the way there are in Canada. So we thought we'd try it out," says Joan McCarthy, Mac's owner and chief praise-deflector. When I tell her that I truly like her halibut filets, so crisp you could spring a quarter off them, she rolls her eyes and adds: "Oh dearie, there's a zillion of these up in Toronto. You should just go up and see them, we're nothing special."
But surely there's something remarkable about a little shack of a restaurant with well-worn carpet and a mere handful of chairs that does a devotedly fierce and bustling business with such a tiny menu? "Oh, no, no, no," protests McCarthy. "We're just a kind of tacky, ma-and-pa shop. I don't know what you could possibly write about us. Just write: 'The fish and chips are good, I went there.' I can't even believe anyone would even think of writing about us, there's so many of us we're almost like a McDonald's."
Where are there so many of them? In Toronto, of course. Lucky Canucks. Swimming in an endless supply of milky-white halibut filets batter-dipped and fried till the batter is the color of hay in the fall, the tender fish and crisp coating as perfectly joined as a crab and its shell. Do these Canadians appreciate the way these kings of fried fish are propped up by a court of skin-on french fries, and do they think the fish-and-chip basket is a bargain-- $6.87 for two pieces of halibut, a generous portion of fries, freshly minced coleslaw, a can of soda, tartar sauce, and a little sandwich baggie containing two slices of Wonder bread and a butter packet? True, the fries--er, chips--come from the freezer, but that doesn't keep them from soaking up a good amount of the malt vinegar that each table is supplied with, providing a nice earthy, sour contrast to the delicate fish. "Sometimes I think I should eliminate the chips, because they should be hand-cut," admits McCarthy, erupting in laughter: "But I'm no damn fool at this age; I'm not going to cut potatoes if I can get away with frozen ones."
In addition to fish and chips, Mac's offers fried chicken strips, which are very good and cost the Mac's standard--$6.87 a basket. Fish and chicken. Fries and pop. What else does Mac's have? A couple of "Gone-Fishin'" knickknacks and a steady stream of customers who come from all over the Twin Cities for what some say is the best fish and chips in town. It certainly is the least pretentious, and possibly the least ambitious, joint around: In addition to the menu, Mac's only other features are a cash register, a fan, and a shelf of magazines deposited by regulars who order a basket to consume on the premises--when the fish is at its crispest--and takeout for the family at home. While pieces of halibut can be purchased individually--a single piece costs $2.61, but quantity orders can get the price down to $2.29 per--bundling them together in butcher paper for long car rides makes them get soggy from the trapped steam. Your best bet is to grab a magazine off the shelf and read about remarkably predictable upcoming flicks while you wait for your remarkable--here, if not in McCarthy's hometown--fish and chips. Did you hear that Child's Play 4--The Bride of Chucky is coming?
IT'S ALL IN THE PLANNING: So you bought all the goodies at the farmer's market, suddenly possessed with a burning desire to make salsa. But you mistakenly put in a whole habañero, and had to compensate by adding in four more bushels of tomatoes. Three hours later, tomato liquor coating you from shoulder to knee, you're crabby. Yes, you have the best salsa you've ever made, and enough for all your friends and neighbors, but who wants to spend all that lonely time mincing? If only you had mixed up a bunch of mango margaritas first, you'd have been surrounded with helper buddies. Here's a recipe from Nuevo Tex-Mex: Festive New Recipes from Just North of the Border, by David Garrido and Robb Walsh (Chronicle Books, $19.95.)
Mango-Key Lime Margaritas
* 2 shots (2 ounces) tequila
* 1 shot (1 ounce) Cointreau
* 1/4 fresh mango, peeled and chopped
* 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
* Juice of 1/2 Mexican or 1 whole key lime
* 1 cup crushed ice
* 2 lime slices
Combine the tequila, Cointreau, mango, orange juice, lime juice, and ice in a blender and blend until slushy. Serve in large martini glasses, each garnished with a lime slice. Makes two drinks.
BETTER THAN ADAM ANT: What were you up to in 1982? Wearing a skinny tie, playing Trivial Pursuit, cursing President Reagan and waiting for Adam Ant videos to show up on MTV after an evening of Dallas and Falcon Crest? Shame on you. But while you were up to no good, the grapes of Bordeaux were having one of their best years ever, and one of your only chances to taste their glory will be presenting itself at Minneapolis's Table of Contents on Thursday, September 24.
The 1982 Bordeaux dinner is the brainchild of ToC general manager Bill Coy, who's been waiting to host an event like this ever since signing on at ToC two and a half years ago, coming from the megamall's California Cafe and a stint as assistant wine manager at New York City's famed Rainbow Room. "1982 is probably the best year since '61 or '70, it is a classic Bordeaux vintage," says Coy, "This dinner is kind of a last-chance thing, since there aren't a lot of these wines left. The $150-per-person price tag seems hefty, but if you were to try to price some of the wines we'll be pouring, you'd find many are worth $100 to $200 dollars a bottle. At the end of the day we're not going to be making any money on it. We're doing it because of a passion for the vintage and the wine." Bordeaux aficionado Tim Johnson, from Paustis Wine Distributors, will be on hand and speaking about wines. Call 339-1133 for reservations, which are limited to only 45 people.
The only question remaining: Where are you going to come up with the $150? I don't know. Maybe it's time to take all those "Baby On Board" signs and Smurf figurines down to the antique store.
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