Analog Coming to Downtown Oakland 

A new restaurant will celebrate all things old-school. Plus, a fisherman-owned fish market comes to downtown Berkeley.

This might be the era of Google Glass, but sometimes it can be nice to turn back the clock — at least that's the idea behind Analog, a new restaurant coming to downtown Oakland at 412 14th Street, just off Broadway. According to chef-owner Sean Asmar, the restaurant's theme will be a celebration of analog media — of VHS cassette tapes and record players and old cathode-ray-tube television sets.

Why the obsession with all things analog? The 28-year-old Asmar isn't old enough to remember the heyday of vinyl and VHS, but the New Hampshire native said he's been fascinated with those media for as long as he can remember. Besides, as a music lover and musician himself, Asmar wanted to celebrate 45s and LPs before they become lost to history forever.

He said he's always loved walking into a restaurant or cafe that's playing music from a record player — the little crackle of the needle as it settles into the groove of the record, something akin to the feeling you get when you visit your grandparents' house.

"There's something very warm about that," Asmar said.

At Analog, diners will pull their menus out of vintage LP covers, old TVs set up around the restaurant will play movies from Asmar's personal collection of more than five hundred VHS tapes, and whichever employee is manning the house record player will be happy to take requests. If all that isn't enough to please old-school audiophiles, Asmar has also acquired a 45-RPM record-player jukebox, and he plans to use his connections in the Bay Area music scene (he sings and plays guitar for the Oakland-based post-punk trio Big Long Now) to put together a big collection of 45s featuring local releases of the past ten years. It'll be a "strange, eclectic jukebox," Asmar said.

Food-wise, though, there won't be much that's strictly traditional, or old-school, about the restaurant. Asmar also runs the kitchen at Bender's Bar and Grill (in San Francisco's Mission district), where the food can be described loosely as "gastropub" fare — creative, somewhat fancified takes on pub standards like burgers, tater tots, and mac 'n' cheese. At Analog, he plans to take that concept further, with a greater emphasis on high-quality local ingredients. As at Bender's, there will be an array of burgers featuring grass-fed beef patties infused with bourbon and chunks of bacon. Other menu items will include apple-cider pulled pork, lamb poutine, sweet-potato fries served with maple syrup-infused Dijon mustard, and — for something "a little weird," as Asmar put it — tacos stuffed with popcorn-chicken-like fried alligator nuggets.

Bender's is also known for its vegan-friendly fare, and vegan bar patrons who are mourning the death of the formerly-all-vegan Olde Depot Public House will likely find Analog's selection of fake-meat sandwiches — including a vegan cheesesteak and a vegan "Rachel" that both feature Asmar's house-made seitan — right up their alley. Asmar also plans to offer a veggie burger made with beets and turnips.

Pending the approval of a beer-and-wine license, there should be several beers on tap to complement the restaurant's decidedly beer-friendly food menu. Asmar is still in the process of obtaining all of the necessary permits, but he said he hopes Analog will be ready to open by March or April.

Sustainable Fish Shop Opens

Berkeley is no stranger to progressive food-related business models — it is, after all, home to a barista-owned coffee shop (Alchemy Collective Cafe) and a cheesemonger-owned cheese shop (The Cheese Board Collective). Now, the city is also the site of a fisherman-owned fish market: Bonita Fish Market (1941 University Ave.), which was opened by a pair of commercial fishermen, Hung Nguyen and Phat Vo, in downtown Berkeley in November. Although the shop is small and carries a limited, seasonally dependent selection of fish, Bonita is one of the most exciting new fish markets to open in the East Bay in years.

Nguyen and Vo, who both grew up in Berkeley, had sold fish to local fish markets and grocery stores for years, and Vo spent time working as a fishmonger at Monterey Fish Market and Berkeley Bowl. Nguyen said the two finally thought, "Why not open our own store and sell for ourselves, and bring the fish to the people?"

According to Vo, the chief advantage he has is his thirty years of experience working directly with fish. Or, as he put it, "I'm a fisherman, and they're not." What that translates to, he said, is a network of personal connections with fishermen and a deep knowledge of exactly where the fish are coming from.

Sustainability-wise, Bonita is also more progressive than your average fish market. Vo estimates that about 80 percent of the fish the market sells is sustainably caught. The exceptions are fish like swordfish and mahi-mahi, which Vo said he and Nguyen feel forced to carry because of customer demand.

Mind you, that kind of consideration comes with a price tag. When I paid a visit recently to buy shrimp, the only kind available were some very large wild shrimp from Mexico, priced at $16.95 a pound — not inexpensive. Still, on the whole, the prices compare favorably to other sustainability-minded fish markets in the area.

The biggest difference is that once the summer arrives Nguyen and Vo will bring in more of the fish themselves, alternating so that one of them can man the store while the other is out at sea. By cutting out the middleman, Vo said he expects to be able to sell King Salmon — the summer's bestseller — about $3-per-pound cheaper than his competitors.

If the prospect of heading out on a boat several mornings a week while also running a fish market full-time sounds daunting — or even insane — to you, Vo said there's no need to worry on his behalf: "Fishermen — they are hardworking people, man," he said.

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