The Chippy Fish & Chips - Irvine
Like tacos and banh mi sandwiches, fish & chips is a dish best served cheap. You could always find it at some overpriced, reservations-only, seafood restaurant, or even an Irish or British pub, but I would argue that fish & chips should never see a plate, silverware, or a waitress that you have to tip afterwards. It was conceived as take-out food, after all.
But in Orange County, with a few exceptions, once you rule out these places, you're often left with dreck. There was a well-regarded joint that I will not name, which touted its Brit-cred with a shelf full of products only Prince Charles and Harry Potter could find appealing. But the fish and chips? The only thing memorable about it was that it wasn't memorable.
Many others I've tried suffered from a misconceived notion that it is acceptable to serve fish fillets that come in preformed squares or triangles -- objects that had more in common with the Filet-O-Fish than actual fillets of fish. What ground beef is to steak, most were no better than what a seven-year old can accomplish with a frozen box of Gorton's and a microwave.
You could say I'm a fish & chips snob. But it's not because I am British (I'm not). It is because I know great take-out fish & chips, though elusive, is possible and attainable. It ain't rocket surgery or brain science.
It can be done, and I've seen it.
Old family friends of ours owned and operated a fish & chips shop in Fullerton many decades ago, and they managed to use actual fresh fish, not that pre-processed stuff. And none of them had degrees in rocketry or neurology.
Thankfully, The Chippy Fish & Chips, a new family-run chip shop in Irvine, has taken up the cause, doing for the month they've been in business what every other shop should've been doing for years: Using whole fish steak fillets, hand-dipped in a batter of their own concoction, deep-fried to exacting standards, and sold for a pittance.
Mom minds the register. Dad monitors the deep fat fryer with a watchful eye and busy tongs. Daughter serves the final product.
A single retails for a reasonable $3.90, piled on top of a paper basket brimming over with fries. Though the potatoes are resurrected from frozen, they are fried to a golden crisp, salted properly, and function as the trusty back-up track to the real star: the fish.
Its glory starts with the crust. It's rippled, has ridges petrified into a gnarled crunch, measures only a few hairs thick, and is just slightly heartier than tempura. When you break into the golden crispy cocoon, a plume of steam billows out to reveal the virgin flesh -- a white, moist, milky meat, unmolested by machines, which falls apart into supple flakes when you put your mouth on it.
Provided: Tartar sauce. Lemon. Indispensable thimbles of malt vinegar. And proof that, indeed, great fish & chips can exist outside of the restaurant or the pub.
The Chippy Fish & Chips
2222 Michelson Dr. #216
Irvine, CA 92612
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