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An old rule of prudence teaches that you should never eat raw oysters in a month whose name doesn't have an "r" in it from May to August, more or less the warm-weather months elevating the danger of spoilage. Rain and cold do present their inconveniences and discomforts, but they are also balm in the matter of seafood, most of which is delicate and turns bad easily if the temperature starts to rise. One does not like to think of oysters being hauled along I-5 on some infernal July afternoon.
The rule has never been extended to sushi, so far as I know, but it wouldn't be the worst idea. Although my best sushi experiences have been in balmy Hawaii, and while I have eaten raw seafood here in every season, even our autumnal summer, I am most at ease doing so in winter, when the world itself seems well refrigerated and the albacore tuna, plucked from cold seas, is rushed to the chilly city, where we eagerly await it in a restaurant that, perhaps with any luck is well heated.
Barracuda Sushi, which opened last year on a glam stretch of Market Street that includes Café Flore, Bagdad Café, and Lime, is well heated. It is also quite nice looking, with a rust and jade paint scheme, banquettes upholstered in fabrics with fine geometric patterns, and bars fore and aft (the latter a sushi bar). The place is less clubby-looking than Lime (which is a door or two away), but there's a powerful nightlife pulse nonetheless. If you knew this space as the onetime home of such restaurants as Tin Pan and Repastoria Satyricon, you might not recognize it.
It is one of my pet theories that oft-flipped restaurant spaces at last achieve stability when they become Japanese restaurants. Après le déluge, sushi. Houses of Japanese cuisine must fail occasionally, but the attrition rate is low. So Barracuda (which has a pair of sibling restaurants down the Peninsula) opens with at least one structural advantage.
Another plus, more sensual or aesthetic in nature, is the swirling of Peruvian and Brazilian touches into the food, a reflection not of the kitchen's whimsy (or not just of its whimsy) but of the large Japanese migrations to South America in the first half of the 20th century. Who could forget that a recent president of Peru bore the unlikely name Alberto Fujimori? Of course, he was forced out in disgrace, but still.
A nice introduction to this pan-Pacific sensibility is the sushi napoleon ($11.95), a disk of rice about the size of a single-serve cheesecake topped with chunks of tuna and avocado a pair of roll regulars along with blueberries, slices of mango, and a slathering of mayonnaise. It sounds awful, like something a latchkey kid might throw together as an after-school snack, but it turned out to be both beautiful (with the colors of some elaborate ice cream confection) and tasty-rich in a way Japanese food seldom is.
Most of the food isn't so aggressively inventive. Gyoza ($5.95), the Japanese pot stickers, are familiar and friendly, though we found the skins to be thinner than usual, and the ponzu sauce on the side was spiked with some minced jalapeño pepper for added excitement. Seaweed salad ($6.95) was presented as an upmarket trio, with three varieties of seaweed (wakame, goma wakame, and hijiki) given three saucings of aji amarillo (mayonnaise-like and made from the mild yellow Peruvian chile), orange tobiko, and lemon. A sushi set ($11.95) consisted of California roll (crab and avocado) and a selection of nigiri, including tuna, salmon, and shrimp; it was good, but you could get it anywhere, even at the supermarket.
But even the fanciest supermarket probably wouldn't offer anything to compare with the hamachi ceviche ($11.95), the thin bricks of flesh doused with a basil-yuzu-wasabi sauce truly a New World combination, which produced a memorable sweet pepper-fire effect and topped with tiny cubes of purplish bronze geutf8 like jewels we could not identify. Also distinctive are many of the rolls, including the Barracuda crunchy roll ($12): broiled tuna and avocado wrapped in a long tube of rice, which is then dipped in a light batter and flash-fried. The result is something like a Japanese chimichanga, tasty but quite rich.
We tend to associate Japanese cuisine so strongly with uncooked seafood that we are at risk of forgetting that the Japanese cook a lot of their food too and with their own sort of élan. The lunch menu offers us a series of vivid reminders of this, from udon (the pho-like noodle soup) to various types of panko-crusted cutlets, or katsu. There is even a breaded calamari steak (the poor man's abalone), which turned up for me in a bento box ($9.50) in the company of a California roll, a pat of white rice, a mixed salad with creamy dressing, and (most welcome on a leaden, tule-fog day) a bowl of miso soup on the side. Across the table, miso soup was neither necessary nor missed, for there came a great bowl of udon ($9.95), steaming like a caldera on some volcanic plain. In the concentrated chicken broth lurked a Medusa's wig of fat noodles, with flecks of shiso and scallion and slivers of shiitake mushrooms. The tempura shrimp were presented on the side, and we briefly considered the likelihood that we were expected to dump them into the bowl. We didn't, and they turned out to do nicely when eaten on the side ... but had we broken a rule? *
Brunch: Sat.Sun., 11 a.m.3:30 p.m. Lunch: Mon.Fri., 11 a.m.3:30 p.m. Dinner: Mon.Thurs., 510:30 p.m.; Fri.Sun., 511:30 p.m.
2251 Market, SF
Noisy if busy