We went to cafe Baraka last night. Interesting to note that there was another Chowhound (or at least someone talking about chowhound.com) and the adjacent table writing a review for some Harvard outlet or other. Was it you?
My initial impression of the place was that it's just the sort of hole in the wall that a 'hound would love and I was mostly not disappointed although the atmosphere turns out to be almost as important as the food. It's a small place with 3 or 4 tables for 2 and a similar number of foursomes along a wall with a pillowed bench. The occupants of a tiny kitchen kept emerging to chat, both with the server and with the Tunisian guy sitting at the next table. Do not come here expecting traditional snappy attentive restaurant service! The server (Alia who also owns the place) seemed much more interested in her conversation with the Tunisian guy and the chef than in waiting tables. Their conversation continued throughout dinner in French, Arabic, and English, often in the same sentence. From the tone and the amount of advice dispensed, I assumed that the Tunisian guy was her nephew or cousin or something. It turns out he's just a regular and that she dispenses advice to everyone.
Oh, right, the food. Overall, quite good but not spectacular. You'll have to forgive me for not remembering the Arabic dish names. We ordered the mixed vegetable plate appetizer, an eggplant couscous, and a tilapia special. "Too much food" we were told in the nicest way and, with our consent, the appetizer was scaled back to a smokey plate of roast eggplant topped with a lump of creamy feta cheese, delicious. We were left to wonder for a couple of minutes if we were simply meant to dig into the eggplant with forks when a plate the best pita I've had in quite some time arrived. Some unidentified (by us) black seeds sprinkled on each slice were a flavorful addition but mostly it was the liberal slathering of butter which really helped. A "carafe" of rosewater lemonade turned out to be a big plastic pitcher, quite enough for two thirsty folks. The drink itself, poured into glasses containing ice, a mint leaf, and another unidentified spice, a brown powdery this time, was flavorful and refreshing. With rosewater, I can't help but imagine myself drinking straight from a perfume bottle.
Of the main dishes, the tilapia special was the clear winner. Two good sized filets coated in a spice mixture and pan fried until crispy on the outside rested on a bed of orzo swimming in a thin brown sauce. The fish was spectacular: crispy and spicy (not hot just flavorful) on the outside, moist on the inside, and chewy bits around the edges. The sauce was a little to salty and thin, I thought, and not quite as highly spiced as I expected. The other entree, an eggplant-olive-cheese mix (Marzuk?) over couscous was not quite as good. The flavor of the eggplant was overpowered by the salty olives and the cheese added nice stringy texture but not much flavor. The accompanying marinated roast peppers were excellent.
We ended the meal with a chocolate cake which was passable in both senses of the word (i.e. next time I'll pass). Little cups of tea with mint which got sweeter and sweeter as we approached the bottom were exactly the right finishing touch. We were among the last diners and our tea was accompanied by a long and wide-ranging discussion with Alia, the Tunisian guy, and the chef. It really felt like we were all guests in her home and it's that atmosphere, along with very good food which will bring us back. Total for two including tip was about $55.
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