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Great British Heroes: #37 James Bond

       In both Britain and the U.S. James Bond has been a household name for nearly 50 years; ever since his first run in with “Dr. No.”

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Bloody stereo-Typical!

      My friend Roland joked at my expense for writing about eating fish and chips the other day. What he’s not taking into consideration is the British in me is compelled to eat things that most Americans would choose to avoid, whether it be for health reasons or otherwise. I hate to admit it but I am a stereotypical Brit.
I usually hate stereotypes. It’s not because I think that they’re far too often racist-they usually are. It’s because I really am one. I’m British. And yes, I talk differently from you. My teeth aren’t perfect; I like football and beer and pub food.

       Comments about stereotypes come in two different forms: The ones that people say to your face. Often by well meaning galoots, who spend half their day hopping around while trying to remove their other foot from the gaping maw in the lower part of their face.
“You’re English; you must like fish ‘n’ chips,” they’ll say, usually with a dreadful pretend-English accent. While this is not nearly as rude as assuming that a tall African-American is good at basketball, or telling a gay man that he’d be a fabulous florist, or joking to a little person that he’d probably make a good rodeo clown, it’s usually followed by the. “It’s meant as a compliment” defense. It’s still a bit much. Then of course there are just the genuinely mean-spirited stereotype comments, which are usually hateful and something you wouldn’t dare say to someone’s face; which there’s no need to cover here.

                 However, for the sake of this blog and for the sake of Brits everywhere,  I’m going to embrace my stereotype. To such ends, Elvis and I will continue to seek out the best pub-style Fish ‘n’ Chips in the Bay Area.

          Although I already posted the first review from Barclay’s, I thought I should go over my requirements for the perfect restaurant fish ‘n’ chips. What I’m looking for: moist, flaky, clean, white fish. In Britain you’d be expecting cod, pollock, or haddock. In the U.S., snapper works well also, but if you can find fresh cod that would be the way to go. If you’re going to use a beer-batter, the trick is not to let the oil get too hot or the batter will be too crispy and a little burned tasting. However, you do want to make sure the fish is not undercooked. I’m also a big fan of the panko style bread-crumbed fish and although less traditional, restaurants will not be penalized for serving their fish this way.
Chips: not thin cut and definitely not frozen. The chips should be thick-cut and not too crispy. A bit soggy is my personal favorite. Salt and vinegar? You’d better believe it. Thinner chips lose their temperature much quicker; the hotter the chips the better.

          Fish and chips on the go should be served in plain paper, which is THEN wrapped in newspaper. Why would you let printing chemicals near your food? Bad show.

Batter and fry this up for Montgomery Burns, but don’t try to feed it to a Brit.

            Ideally I’m looking for fish and chips that come as close to the way I remember them from home as possible. I’m obviously not a professional food critic, but I have solid taste buds and know what British fish and chips is supposed to taste like. Feel free to comment and offer varying opinions, after all aren’t we all critics?

Over to you, Roland.

© Copyright Matty Stone 2010

Dining With Elvis

The Bay Area Brit reviews local restaurants with Elvis Presley

As some of you may know, Elvis Presley is alive and well and lives in a room in my house. Every week we choose a restaurant in The Bay Area and eat, drink, and talk about the old days. We each review the restaurant from our unique perspectives.

The Search For The Perfect Fish ‘n’ Chips

Barclays Pub 5940 College Avenue Oakland CA (near Rockridge BART)

     Our first review is of Barclays Pub in the Rockridge neighborhood of Oakland. I was craving something British to eat, and Elvis wanted some comfort food. Elvis still loves cheeseburgers and fries, but was reluctant to be seen eating fried food as he felt it re-enforced a negative stereotype regarding his eating habits. Of course he didn’t really say it like that; I’m translating. Elvis is 74 now and still drawls a little and cusses far too often for a man that grew up singing gospel music, but far from being an older caricature of his former-self, he looks quite distinguished with short gray hair and is in fairly decent shape. I assured him that no one would make fun of him, as everyone in the world believes he died in 1977.
When seen together in dining situations Elvis and I come and go with anonymity. Restaurant employees and patrons alike do not know they are in the same room as “The Bay Area Brit” and they’re oblivious to being in the presence of a man once known as “The King.”
We pass for a sort of “Odd Couple” version of a father and son.

       I ordered the Fish and Chips. The fish was a beer-battered Pacific Snapper. The portion was huge. I joked to Elvis, “We’re gonna need a bigger plate.” A reference to the movie “Jaws.” Elvis just looked at me with a confused look on his face.

         “Why don’t you just ask for one, then?” he said without a trace of a recognition.
“No, it’s from Jaws, Elv…I mean, Alan.” I call him Alan to reduce the chance of anyone recognizing him. It was also his codename at Graceland.
“Oh, yeah, the film about the shark, right. I saw that. Man, I almost pissed in my jumpsuit when that thing leapt out at those guys on the damned boat.”

“We’re gonna need a bigger plate.”

          Elvis’s burger finally arrived (he’d sent it back twice claiming it still wasn’t cooked enough. Personally I think that this sort of behavior is unacceptable, but who am I to argue with Elvis Presley?) He’d ordered it extra well done. “That mad cow disease is all well and good for you limeys, but I ain’t dying over it.” Elvis is a bit paranoid, and the burger came back from the kitchen looking like a hockey puck but he was satisfied and ate voraciously.
My fish was tasty and moist. The chips, which claimed to be cut English-style, were very good, but not quite fat enough to pass. The chips in a “fish ‘n’ chips” dish should be the size of a thumb and a little soggy. They should be piping burn-the-roof-of-your-mouth hot and doused in salt and vinegar.

          Elvis was very happy with the fries though and contemplated ordering another side of them. “Now, now, that’s just what the old Elvis would do,” I whispered. Elvis suddenly noticed a guitar hanging on the wall near the door and suggested he could pay for our lunch by singing a song or two. “You know like in my movies.”
“I don’t know. I think that’s a bad idea, pal.” He pulled a sour face after I shot down his suggestion.

         Overall it was a good effort for an American British-style pub. I paid the bill and Elvis said he wanted to leave the tip. In the old days he’d do things like leave the keys to a Cadillac if he thought the waitress was cute. Fortunately for us, he doesn’t have that kind of money at his disposal anymore.

© Copyright Matty Stone 2010

My Olympic Fever Just Broke

    During the icy winter months growing up in England, my friends and I used to steal wooden lunch trays from the school cafeteria. We’d trudge in the snow to the steepest hill on the school grounds and then jump on our trays and hurtle downwards at breakneck speeds. Believing in my own mortality, I only dared do the run a few times. My paranoid mind always got in the way of truly dangerous fun. I imagined the next day newspaper headlines “BOY KILLED AS LUNCH TRAY HURTLES OUT OF CONTROL DOWN SNOWY, SOUTH LONDON SLOPE!”

      The Bay Area Brit is a big fan of the Winter Olympics. Not all of it mind you, a lot of it’s pretty dull, and some events shouldn’t be confused with legitimate spectator sports.
I enjoyed the opening ceremony, even when they screwed it up at the torch-lighting. If you haven’t seen Wayne Gretzky’s incredibly unsure, nervous expression as the equipment failed, I highly recommend you seek it out on Youtube. Sweat beads were forming on the upper lip of the”Great One.”
The U.S. hockey team once again surprised everyone but me. I had no idea that they weren’t the best team, but apparently they weren’t expected to get anywhere near a sniff at a medal. Then there was Shaun White’s aerial “snow-crobatics,” which were totallllly breathtaking, dude. (Rumor has it his body is comprised of 89% THC. That’s why his hair is the same color as the incredibly potent Rye River red bud.) Which BTW if ever there was an endorsement for advocating marijuana legalization he should be the spokesperson. I mean seriously he can do all that when he’s stoned?

         The women’s figure skating was dramatic too. Ooh, okay, no Brits in the final. So, do I root for the American? Well not if want to back a winner I don’t. Nope, no chance there. She was too…Tonya Hardingesque. What about the darling, teenage South Korean favorite, according to the commentators the nation had already planned the victory parades. Or do I go with my heart and pull for the Canadian. Joanie Rochette, whose mother died suddenly and tragically of a heart attack a few hours before the Canadian was to take the ice for the first time.

I watched transfixed.

      Yeah, yeah, I know what you’re thinking. Ice skating, really? But you have to understand as a Brit, that’s all we’re good at in the Winter Olympics. Come on, you remember don’t you? Torvill and Dean, Robin Cousins, John Curry. These are the names of British celebrities made famous by winning gold medals in Winter Olympics competition. Never heard of them? Well that’s because Americans have a hard time keeping up with their own gold medal winners. But I assure you back home these Olympians were treated like, (well actually better than) royalty.

       There was one British medal winner this Olympics: Amy Williams. Unlike in America, being British and winning an Olympic medal is sort of like not having to share the prize money with anyone else after you win the lottery.
I’m sure Amy Williams has sponsorship deals lined up left and right, and kids all over Great Britain will say things like, “Mum, when I grow up, I want to be just like Amy Williams and win a gold medal in the Olympics, and so I want to learn the Skeleton.”
Excuse me?
She won in what sport now?
Apparently the sport is “Skeleton,” which I assumed you have to be really, really thin to win a gold in. Skeleton, of course is a variation of bobsleigh, except without the comfort and protection of the sled. You’re basically flying down the hill on the base of a sleigh.

Stolen cafeteria lunch tray, anyone?

Give me a sport that is less dangerous any day: like Curling; the only way you can get hurt in Curling is if you’re busy looking down at the ice frantically shuffling and Shaun White’s snowboard lands on your head after a gnarly jump goes awry. Well that and being blinded by the precocious, colorful plaid pants.

      Anyway, I’m proud of our Skeleton Queen, Amy Williams. Long may she reign. Providing her lunch tray doesn’t snap in half, perhaps we’ll see her at the next Winter Olympics, which will be held in a place I will learn the location of approximately a week before the opening ceremony in 2014.