Sushi with a bite
Castro Street's four-month-old Barracuda puts the fun back in Japanese food
A menu full of pictures often is not a good sign.
Don't get me wrong. I can admit to having ordered a Grand Slam or two — enticed, perhaps, by a larger-than-life photo of eggs and pancakes, glistening in full-color glory on a plastic menu. But restaurants that want to be taken seriously don't usually present patrons with a menu that looks more like a picture book.
But that's the thing about Barracuda: It doesn't want to be taken too seriously. Barracuda wants you to have fun. And what is not fun about a photo of a flaming maki the size of Godzilla's thumb? Barracuda knows what else makes for a fun night out: good drinks for a fair price, long happy hours, and cocktails with names like the Green Geisha.
It never hurts to have a little dance music going, either.
"Fun sushi" is not a new concept. Think of those places that float your tekka maki to you in little boats or the raucous joints with disco balls and night club lighting. Barracuda — a local chain with five outposts from San Francisco to Mountain View — finds inspiration in the sushi-is-sexy model, but has not traded flavor for flash. The restaurant casts a wide net with its menu and reels in everything from traditional Japanese to outlandish Californian/Hawaiian/pan-Asian creations, with a detour even to South America — ceviche won ton tacos anyone? A few of the items we tried seemed too overwrought, as if the kitchen was being too aggressively creative, but overall the food is as good as it is fun.
The Barracuda chain hatched in 2006 in San Francisco, on Market Street in the Castro, subsequently spawning outposts in Daly City, Burlingame, and Redwood City. The Mountain View spot, which opened four months ago, has a small bar upfront and a modern wood-and-tile decor. Executive chef Chad Kaneshiro hails from the great celebrity chef incubator of Silicon Valley: the Google cafeteria.
Even with small, regional restaurant chains, some corporate uniformity can start to dull the vibe after the second or third location. But by then, they usually have a winning formula down pat. We knew immediately on our first visit that we were in good hands. Our waitress brought kid-friendly chopsticks, secured at the top with a rubber band, for the young ones and assured us that the $5 cocktail special was still on, even though it was 7:30 p.m. on a Saturday night. Now, that's a winning formula: family-friendly touches coupled with drinks trendy enough to allow us to pretend the kids belong to someone else and that we still live in the Mission. Cucumber martini in one hand, a steaming bowl of miso soup in the other, we happily perused the huge menu.
Barracuda's signature rolls have names like the Gangsta and the Cherry Blossom, many stuffed with bits of mango or other fruit, and drizzled with sauces made of blueberries, unagi, or even wine. We opted first for the comparatively simple Crazy roll ($9.95), a thick tube of rice swelling with tuna, salmon, avocado, and cucumber and sprinkled with tobiko (flying fish roe). It was good — more interesting than a typical California roll and filled to bursting with hunks of fresh fish.
Next came The Flamer! ($12.95). Where to begin with this cylindrical piece of insanity? A shrimp, snow crab and spicy tuna center was enveloped in strips of salmon, yellowtail and tuna, then covered with a spicy mayo, wrapped in foil, and set aflame. You let the monster burn at the table for one to three minutes, depending on how much you want your fish cooked. The Flamer tastes smoky, with chipotle-like spice, but so many types of fish in that rather goopy mayo turned me off. My husband enjoyed it.
By contrast, the ginger tuna tartare ($14.95) was simple and refined. Glistening hunks of ahi arrived in a little mound, dressed up only with sesame oil and ginger, and perhaps a dash or two of rice vinegar. The mini ceviche tacos ($10.95) veered back into wacky-fusion territory, but with some success. The thick won ton taco shells were too robust for the delicate trio of marinated fish concoctions, but the interior of each taco was bright with a tangy fish-and-lime marinade, one tilapia, one ahi and one shrimp.
The chicken kara-age appetizer ($7.95) was perfect for the kids and pleased adult palates as well. Lightly fried, bite-sized chunks of chicken were glazed with soy sauce, ginger and garlic. It was a cold night, so we also had a steaming, satisfying bowl of the seafood yaki udon ($12.95) jam packed with shrimp, clams and fish. The house-made noodles were outstanding: firm, wheaty and not doughy.
Dessert was a surprise, more Western than Eastern. We opted for two creamy towers of decadence: a fluffy and nutty hazelnut mousse, layered with cream and an airy cake, and the "exotica," a frothy mango and cream mousse (both $7.95).
I also had a pleasant lunch at Barracuda. The nighttime dance tunes gave way to Sinatra and holiday music for an early December lunchtime crowd. The service was pretty scattered that day. Twice we had to turn away confused servers trying to bring us food meant for another table. We ordered the intriguing lollipop scallops tempura ($9.95) as an appetizer, but were informed after about 10 minutes that they were out of the scallops. I then ordered what turned out to be a nice tuna poke appetizer ($12.95) — a martini glass full of ahi sashimi, studded with avocado in a ginger-sesame marinade — but this intended appetizer arrived after we were almost finished with our main dishes. A coupon for 10 percent off our next visit, presented with our bill, seemed an insufficient apology.
My friend had the giant bowl of tempura udon ($8.95), quite a substantial meal for the price. The tempura was delicious, fried with a light touch and remarkably devoid of grease. I dug into the salmon and avocado tower ($12.95), a two-layer edifice of deep pink chunks of raw salmon topped with ripe avocado. It was pretty if slightly bland.
In furtherance of Barracuda's focus on fun, the restaurant stays open until midnight on the weekends, providing Castro Street with a little more late-night life. Welcome to the neighborhood, Barracuda.
124 Castro Street, Mountain View
Sunday: 10:30 a.m.-10 p.m.
Monday-Thursday: 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 4:30-10 p.m.
Friday: 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.-midnight
Saturday: 10:30 a.m.-midnight11:00am to 2:30pm
4:30pm to 10:00pm
Credit cards: Yes
Alcohol: Full bar
Outdoor dining: yes
Party facilities: No
Noise level: Medium to high
Bathroom cleanliness: Excellent