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Edinburgh Castle
950 Geary Street/Polk, SF
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Pretrial hearing at our table
3/1/02

Vardigan

Fish and Chips Sometimes it's nice to sit in one place for a pre-trial hearing and meal. Edinburgh Castle offers this luxury. The Castle has long been one of my favorite bars, and when I discovered their fish and chips I was even more enamored. Technically, they aren't their fish and chips, but those of Old Chelsea, a tiny grimy place around the corner. The exact terms of their agreement are unknown, but I know the Castle waitress places a call and some time later an Old Chelsea employee comes through the back way, arms loaded with newspaper-wrapped meals.

I chose the three-piece ($7.25), the largest order you can get. That's three fried pieces of fish atop a pile of "chips," or thick, slightly soggy french fries. Having never been to, say, England, I don't know what a proper batch of fish and chips should be, but this is what I envision. These soft, thick fries seem right, especially for absorbing the requisite malt vinegar. The fish came out of the newspaper piping hot and plentiful and fresh -- at least the first two pieces. I grew despondent when chewing through the third, which featured a whole lot of breading encasing a distinct lack of fish. From the outside it looked just like the other two! Was I the victim of the old bait and switch? Apparently. But I'm calling it a fluke (which is also a kind of fish, otherwise known as summer flounder), because on several previous occasions my fish has all been there.

Outside of that, I heartily endorse this classic Tenderloin pub. Particularly before a show at the Great American Music Hall around the corner. Stop in for a beer or two and some fried nourishment before a big night of rock and roll. Or for no reason at all.

 

Loitering McClure

Another trip to (just off) Polk Street found us dining on simple fare done right, just like Bob, your uncle, used to fry up. Old Chelsea is on Larkin just half an alley away from the Castle, and features a limited menu (fish, prawns, oysters, scallops, fries, mushrooms, zucchini and onion rings, hmm, maybe that is enough). You order from the cocktail waitress at the EC and are served the fresh hot fried fish you've been looking for, right there in the bar.

I don't know enough about fish and chips to call Old Chelsea traditional, but from my experience living across the pond I'd say it's authentic, fresh fried and wrapped in newspaper. The fish is flaky and after a bit of batter and some frying they come up with that perfect texture, nice and crunchy, not too heavy. The chips are greasy and just waiting to be drenched in vinegar.

The portions are touch and go, snack vs. meal, depending on the appetite you bring. You can order 1-3 piece combos ($4 - $7.25). I had the 2 piecer and it did me justice that night. The atmosphere at the Edinburgh Castle is great: a mix of homey/cozy warm friendliness, lots of wood, lots of booths and large open hall, big space with pool and pinball in the back, and more places to hang up stairs.

If you're looking for a good time, the Castle boasts "San Francisco's #1 alternative venue" and a wonderful fish-n-chip meal. Pop on in and enjoy.

 

Turner

There used to be a parrot that lived at the end of the bar at Edinburgh Castle, and I, for one, have no idea what happened to it. It's gone.

But pretty much everything else seems to remain from the old days, which keeps the E-Castle one of the finest pubs you are likely to find in this town. Or Glasgow, for that matter. It's like stepping back in time! To an ancient Scottish ale house, to hoist tankards with Rob Roy, or Mel Gibson with blue paint on his face! Or maybe that was one of the colorful Tenderloin denizens of the night. Not sure.

Anyway, it's a great pub with a dark, wooden, old-timey atmosphere, featuring Scottish trappings such as tabors attached to the walls. A full bar stocked with all manner of libations will wet your whistle until you grow peckish. That's where Old Chelsea comes in. Through a symbiotic relationship, newspaper bundles full of greasy goodness are shuttled into the Castle for your consumption. I guess you could get the fish and chips directly from Old Chelsea (somewhere around there), but I'm pretty sure the atmosphere pales in comparison, and I doubt you'll find the live music and other cultural events being performed in the kitchen.

I can't say I've had much better fish and chips. Nice crunchy batter on the moist, tender flaky fish, and solid logs of fried potatoes to douse with malt vinegar and salt. I douse it all with vinegar and salt, myself, but you could choose from some other condiments, like catsup! But that would be wrong. There's not much else to say about fish and chips. I mean, I don't know what kind of fish it was (cod? haddock?) but it was white, flaky, and tasted pretty fresh to me. And yes, the chips are limp and kind of soggy, but somehow that seems right with this kind of dining. I'd guess they were freshly cut, too. I'd recommend getting the two-piece order instead of going the gluttony route Judge Vardigan and I did. We both got one kind of wimpy fish piece while paying two bucks more for the honor. Coincidence? Perhaps. But really the two-piecer should satisfy most folks, especially with a couple Sierra Nevadas in your belly. Oh, and if you want scallops or oysters or prawns, you'll find those on the menu as well.

Edinburgh Castle really is a prized SF institution, and anyone who enjoys a pint with some tasty fish and chips now and then should definitely get in there as soon as humanly possible.

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