The truth is, you can’t eat mood lighting. Or fancy wall art or plush velvet chairs. A fact universally known: When you go to a restaurant anywhere in the world, the only thing you can ever eat is the food.
Maybe the owners of the brand-new Circle Hook Fish Co. at Lido Marina Village had this in mind when they designed the tiny eatery. Their pedigree, after all, offers a lesson in the sustainably simple.
Thos Carson is the founder of Bear Flag Fish Co. and Wild Taco—two local concepts that revel in fresh food, no frills—and Scott Breneman is a fourth-generation Dory Fleet fisherman and the owner of West Caught Fish Co. (A quick trip to Dory Fleet in the wee morning hours confirms there’s no pomposity about this set-up. You don’t walk into the make-shift market for its décor; you enter to buy just-caught fish then delight your taste buds in the pristine spoils of the sea.)
Circle Hook follows the same modest mantra. The interior is plain and unassuming; white tiles fill the back wall and counter. Wood beams run across a dark-painted ceiling. Wood also covers the bar and a thin, outdoor communal table that overlooks a boat-bobbed bay.
The menu is handwritten and varies almost daily. If the chef wants to make goat cheese bruschetta one morning, he does. If Breneman catches yellowtail tuna, it becomes the “catch of the day,” available sliced, blackened and placed inside a Bánh mì or maybe beside a gingery, coconut slaw with a healthy serving of Forbidden Black Rice.
It’s all as changeable as the tides and it’s all delicious. The word delicious might seem cliché but it’s the best one I’ve got to describe silky, raw tuna that cuts smooth as butter or Shishito peppers cooked to a dreamy crisp. Of Shishito pepper note: Circle Hook sprinkles Katsuobushi (鰹節) on its version of dish. The dried, fermented and smoked skipjack tuna flakes add umami by way of enhancing the peppers’ smokiness.
Japanese influence is actually the one non-local factor that weighs delicately on the restaurant. Circle Hook by no means serves anything close to sushi, (unless you count the barely seared tuna) but it does echo the Japanese philosophy of food characterized by balance, simplicity and a reverence for its inherent state of design. Ingredients are never shipped from faraway lands and instead mostly excavated from the goodness of our ocean, just as the name Circle Hook – inspired by a type of fishing apparatus – explains. And, as expected, it does so in the same straight-forward, down-to-earth fashion you can expect from every bite.