Thursday, July 12, 2007

Dish on Dining: Barracuda

Heavy on the hype, lacking on delivery
2251 Market St., San Francisco
Castro District
PH: 415.558.8567
Hours: Open 7 days for lunch and dinner

When I recently ate at Barracuda on Market, I was confused by the variety of ways the restaurant described its cuisine. Is it “Japanese Brazilian”? Is it “Japa-zillian” like its business card reads? Or is it a Japanese restaurant with influences of Peru and Brazil, like how it’s described on its Web site?

Let’s call a fish a fish. Barracuda is a sushi restaurant. And oh yeah, it has a few South American-style meat dishes on the side.

Barracuda opened less than a year ago in the former Tin Pan location (there was another restaurant after Tin Pan and before Barracuda, but it lasted so short that I forgot its name already). Tin Pan was popular in the 80s among the Castro crowd for its Asian fusion dishes, and Barracuda continues the atmosphere—at least with the endless 80s soundtrack playing in the background. [[Correction: I was informed by an astute San Francisco reader that Tin Pan was actually opened in the 90s and closed about 4 years ago. That's right, it was the '90s. I must have had the '80s stuck in my mind because of the music I kept hearing at Barracuda.]]

I met my friend Cliff for drinks and a light dinner on a Thursday. Even though I had made reservations, we probably didn’t need one since the restaurant was just a quarter-full by the time we arrived at 7 p.m. The service is very friendly, and we got our party started with some specialty drinks. Cliff had some kind of gin martini and I had the cucumber martini, which I loved because it had slices of pickled cucumber and I like the sourness it added to the vodka. (Of course, my second cucumber martini later that evening wasn’t as great because it was made by another bartender, so the inconsistent is very apparent at the bar.)
I can understand why Barracuda tries to play up its Peruvian and Brazilian roots while still coming off as Japanese. Those countries both had a large migration of Japanese immigrants (about the same time the Japanese were immigrating to Hawaii and the United States), so Japanese cooking is deeply rooted in South America. But looking at Barracuda’s menu, it was primarily focused on sushi with just a sprinkling of Brazilian-inspired dishes such as ceviche, carne de pork and churassco.

Cliff’s not a big meat eater (although I forced him to split a late-night hamburger with me after a night of drinking, but that’s another blog) so we stuck with the fresh fish. We started with the tuna ceviche ($12.95), which were citrus-marinated tuna cubes on fried won ton chips. The tuna was fresh and tasty, and the plate was pretty large to share for two. And while the won ton chips were an interesting presentation, it wasn’t the sturdiest of vessels to get all the tuna in your mouth in one bite.
Next we got a combination sushi roll platter, which included the Pink Lady (soft shell crab, red tuna, red snapper with an unagi-mango sauce) and Dragon Roll (shrimp tempura, avocado and orange tobiko). This combination plate ($16.95) had the unfortunate name, IMHO, of “The Two Timer.” Cliff and I thought they could have had more positive names such as “Double Happiness” or “Pink-Dragon.” I guess they were trying to appeal to the Castro crowd. ;-p

The rolls were delicious, although nothing spectacular. They looked beautiful and colorful, as most specialty rolls do in sushi-hungry San Francisco. Cliff thought the rice wasn’t quite right and I agreed that it was just average although not as soft as some earlier reviewers complained about when Barracuda opened last year.
Our last plate was a simple sashimi dish, which is basically a nice cut of fish fillet sliced into bite-sized pieces and served plain. (In Italy, they’ll drizzle it with olive oil and call it crudo.) We ordered the sake (or salmon) sashimi ($10). The salmon was beautiful and had some nice streaks of fat (which is OK since it’s the good fat). Sashimi is always a nice, light dinner but difficult to review because all you have to check on is to make sure the fish is fresh. And it was.

Overall, Barracuda—which has two other locations in Burlingame and the Serramonte Mall in Daly City—offers decent sushi in a friendly, funky environment. (Cliff was excited to point out the color-changing plastic bamboo wall behind us, but I was not as impressed.) It has a high-profile location right on Market Street (and next to Lime) but I think it suffers a bit from the sushi saturation that is San Francisco. With so many good sushi bars around town, just adding a Brazilian (or Peruvian or Japa-zilian) twist is not enough to draw the crowds. Still, I’d probably drop by for lunch the next time I’m in the Castro, which is a neighborhood longing for a stand-out restaurant. Barracuda, unfortunately, does not step up to the plate.

Single guy rating: 2 stars (nice for lunch or drinks and munchies before the real dinner)

Explanation of the single guy's rating system:
1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner

Barracuda Sushi in San Francisco


Anonymous said...

Actually, Tin Pan opened in the late 90s, circa 98 or 99 I believe, and closed around 2003 or so. In between there was an astonishingly bad Italian place called Repastoria Satyricon that I ate at exactly once, and wouldn't have returned even if it didn't close, and for a very brief period it was some other deli-kind of place that also failed brilliantly.

Of course, I wouldn't steer anyone to the Castro as a dining destination to begin with, but this spot seems to have a special curse on it.

Single Guy Ben said...

Thanks Sean, my mind must be going with my old age. I was pretty sure Tin Pan was opened for awhile when I lived in San Francisco prior to moving to New York. But now that I think about it, that was the 90s.

I was just thinking again today why people don't want to open good restaurants in the Castro. Seems like it's ripe for something good.