If fresh fish is your fancy, consider stopping in at Barracuda on the corner of 71st Street and Third Avenue in Bay Ridge.
But don’t go there looking for a romantic interlude, or a quiet tete a tete. In fact, don’t go there in search of anything other than fresh fish, unless you have a hankering for a drink and a wide-screen TV.
Clearly the focus at Barracuda is on the seafood and owner Willy Borodin attributes his broad knowledge of fish to his Crimean roots.
"I grew up near the Black Sea, where there are lots of fish," he told GO Brooklyn. "I learned how to select the best fish - through touch, smell, by the eyes - you can spot good fish once you’ve worked with them for a while. I probably ate fish every day when I was growing up." Borodin has always worked in the restaurant industry, first in Russia, then in Manhattan, where he arrived eight years ago. Borodin met his partner, Chef Mike, who declined to give his last name, through mutual friends three and a half years ago, and the two have been working together ever since. Chef Mike hails from Lithuania on the Baltic Sea, also a big fish-eating locale.
"I’ve always loved to cook," Chef Mike said. "I’ve cooked since I was a kid." When he left Lithuania, Chef Mike came to New York and went to the New York Food and Hotel School, then worked in restaurants in Manhattan and Long Island. "Willy and I started talking and pretty soon, we knew we had the same idea. We wanted to start a seafood place."
Borodin and Mike know their seafood. Barracuda’s menu offers an impressive selection of both the expected - salmon, flounder, catfish, sole, trout, mahi mahi, mussels, scallops, crab, lobster, clams - and the less expected - both Prince Edward’s Island and New Zealand mussels, crayfish, lake sturgeon and Chilean sea bass.
"I go to the Fulton Fish Market three times a week," Borodin said. "They have wonderful fish there." Frequent trips to the market and buying small amounts of fish at a time are Borodin’s secrets to consistently serving only the freshest fare. Borodin’s philosophy on fish preparation is: the simpler the better as the flavor of fresh fish speaks for itself.
All of the fish entrees are "prepared to your liking, broiled or pan-fried, grilled or blackened" and the shellfish are served with drawn butter and "secret ingredients," according to the menu. The utter simplicity of this approach might go a little farther if the restaurant itself had more to offer in the way of ambience, but Barracuda is unpretentious to a fault.
Its unassuming, dark exterior gives way to an equally unassuming dark interior with hints of a low-budget ’50s rec room. While the eight-seater bar along one wall offers the usual spirits, the dining area on the other side is a series of faux wood tables, topped with fake flowers, lightweight cutlery and paper towel napkins. The back area has two large sofas and a huge TV on high volume hanging from the ceiling.
There are a few noteworthy dishes from the selection of soups and "Hot and Not" starters. In fact, all the soups (mainly fish chowders and gumbos) are thick and spicy with a hint of New Orleans.
"Emeril Lagasse is my favorite chef," said Chef Mike, and the influence shows in some of his most interesting dishes. His fusilli Creole with crayfish tails and andouille (Cajun-style sausage) definitely brings Lagasse’s cooking style to mind - plenty of onion, garlic and smoky sausage flavor.
The Atlantic baby calamari grilled with lime dressing were tender with just enough kick from the chopped garlic and lime juice to add interest without overwhelming the delicate flavor of the calamari. The steamed mussels, cooked to perfection, had a nicely balanced sauce of roasted garlic, tomatoes and white wine.
For dessert, we sampled a warm, tasty mixture of apples, prunes and figs with hints of lemon and covered with a crispy granola-like topping, called Dessert Barracuda, which was not too sweet, but satisfying like a deep-dish apple pie.
Other dessert offerings include white chocolate bread pudding and strawberry creme brulee.
I applaud Barracuda’s efforts to serve fresh fish, simply prepared, but I feel Chef Mike’s talents are underplayed. More separation between the TV area and the dining area would be a great improvement, as would more attention to decor. On the other hand, this is a very relaxed atmosphere where you would have no qualms about bringing young children, infants or a group of friends.
Barracuda Seafood Restaurant [71st Street and Third Avenue in Bay Ridge, (718) 833-3759] is open every day and serves brunch on Saturdays and Sundays. Visa, MasterCard, Discover and American Express are accepted.