I will admit that my initial impression of Barracuda Grill in Encinitas was based specifically on the name and my association with the classic rock song from the band Heart. You know the one, “Barra – Barracuda.” That and the predatory nature of the Barracuda fish made me wonder what was behind the name selection. Was there possibly some connection to Anne and Nancy Wilson, the sisters who made up the Heart? Well, it was neither. Chef Mo Hani was inspired by a shop in Morocco bearing that name. Fair enough.
My advice, embrace the name. Chef Mo has added another fine dining establishment to the growing list in Encinitas and it’s worth trying.
First a bit about Chef Mo, as his experience is reason enough to give this place a shot.
Mo was born in the small Moroccan town of Safi. He had a natural interest in cooking and food at a young age being surrounded with rich Moroccan cuisine in his home. At the age of 22 he began working as an assistant cook in Paris, France, which introduced him to French cuisine. He continued his hands on training throughout the kitchens of Europe including stops in Perusal, Naples, Rome, Medina, Italy, Bern, Switzerland, and Berlin, Germany. I love that mix.
Mo took a position in Toronto, Canada, in 1993 as head chef at Browne’s Bistro. In 2001, he opened Avant-Gout in Toronto. Avant-Gout which means “before taste” incorporated Mo’s love of French and Moroccan cuisine. After successfully running Avant-Gout for four years, Mo designed and built, another Avant-Gout from the ground up. He opened the new location of Avant-Gout in 2006. Hid experience as a chef/owner/manager of two successful restaurants coupled with his plethora of European culinary experience comes together beautifully in the Barracuda kitchen.
So let’s talk about the food. We started with two salads, the pear with arugula, Roquefort cheese, toasted walnuts and lemon vinaigrette and the beet salad with shaved Parmigiano reggiano and micro greens. Both were delightful. We sampled two other dishes from the starters including the crispy crab cakes with mango salsa and Dijon mayonnaise along with the Barracuda vegetable samosa with chili mango tamarind sauce. The crab cakes were solid and the samosa was a new found treat as I was not overly familiar with the dish. With that, a little more on what a samosa is for those of you unfamiliar. It generally consists of a fried or baked triangular, half-moon, or tetrahedron-shaped pastry shell with a savory filling of spiced potatoes, onion, peas, coriander, lentils, or sometimes fresh paneer. They are often served with chutney or curd. Salads and starters are all between $7.50 and $10.95.
We shared an entrée of the saffron bouillon risotto with grilled tiger shrimp as a bridge to our main courses. It was cooked perfectly, had great flavor, and the shrimp were tender and had a smoky taste that was really nice. Note to chef Mo, one more shrimp on that dish and it would be a perfectly satisfying entrée at $18.95.
I went with the marinated lamb loin with French lentils, white asparagus in oyster mushroom jus. This was a wonderfully flavorful dish and they cooked it a perfect medium rare “leaning toward” medium as I requested. There was a piece of green asparagus and a nicely presented bunch of green beans that were not mentioned on the menu, but no sign of white asparagus. No complaints here as it was a fantastic dish and at $21.95 very reasonably priced. My dining companion Chef Zonfrilli went with the slow braised Moroccan lamb shank with garlic mashed potatoes and dried fruit. He raved about it and my sample backed that up. His entrée came in at $20.95. I should note that we had a really hard time selecting two entrees as the entire menu looked worthy of a taste. Steak frites, oven roasted pheasant, penne with smoked duck to name a few.
Wines were nicely paired from their growing wine list and desert consisted of a refreshing lemongrass sorbet and some decadent chocolate cake with an amazing pistachio ice cream.
Locals will remember this place way back as George’s, the modest restaurant that showed vintage surf movies on a regular basis. It then became Bistro Soleil, then Tastes, and now Barracuda. It has evolved into quite an attractive space with rich, warm wood tones and a very friendly vibe. The food is solid and the location is perfect in the heart of old Encinitas with a Whole Foods going up next door. Chef Mo is a delightful guy as well as a world class chef. This place deserves to succeed.
Located at 641 S. Coast Highway in Encinitas. Check them out at barracudagrillrestaurant.com or call (760) 230-1464.
Coast News Lick the Plate columnist David Boylan is celebrating 10 years and 500 columns with the Coast News in 2019! His feature covers the ever expanding North County culinary scene that includes restaurants, culinary personalities, trends, observations, tributes and his popular takeover column where area businesses, bands or teams contribute to the column. Lick the Plate has also been a popular radio show for the past eight years in San Diego on 100.7 KFMB, and on stations in Detroit, Michigan, Windsor Ontario and Traverse City, Michigan. Besides the column and radio show, David runs Tatonka Digital & Analog, a boutique marketing agency headquartered in Oceanside, California. Reach him with show suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.lick-the-plate.com