Baraka shares an unfortunate corner with a bad pun–Appethaizing is next door–but the calm, relatively tasteful and relatively tasty operation does well to deliver on its promises. The room is dramatically decorated with maroon drapes, stools, booths against the walls, and dramatic swathes of cloth from ceiling to walls that give the ostentatious moorish chandeliers somewhere interesting to cast their shadow. Tables are lower than average; ours was constructed from a very large and beautifully hand-hammered plate of some kind. My dining partner had a booth and a back to her seat, whilst my stool challenged my bad posture, and I had to fight the elbows-on-table disease.
The menu is frightfully small–apart from open plate starters of hummus and other spreads, a chicken/phyllo dish and a few other appetizers, the six main courses and the special were tagines. There is danger in small menus–sometimes it indicates the confidence of the kitchen, sometimes its hubris. Unfortunately, this distinction, like genius, is judged by unqualified people like me. It’s a shame really. Numerous food luminaries have heralded and decried the same facets of Moroccan food, so I think beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
For anyone who isn’t familiar, tagine is more a cooking vessel than a specific dish. The interesting aspect of the Tagine is the conical cover, which recycles steam whilst slight amounts of moisture actually make it out the top, creating food that is both steamed and roasted. It’s really a brilliant creation.
At the top we discovered that Baraka had earned itself an OLCC license, so the Tribune’s suggestion of BYOB earned us a corking fee ($5). It also didn’t earn us a wine list, so I’ve no comments on that yet. We ordered hummus, but the appetizer we received was a spicy concoction of red peppers and chickpeas, undercut with strong hints of preserved lemon and rich tahini. Hummus? well yes, technically, but this was much more assertive than your av-er-age hummus. In the perfect world, this dish would be paired with piping hot fresh pita, but that is not the case here; if the proffered pita was homemade, it wasn’t done well.
The Tagine is a beautiful thing, and it offers a chance for boring looking (or just plain boring) food to be dramatically presented. I had the vegetable tagine, my dining partner the chicken with olives. All was appropriately cooked, but the star for me was the cous cous.
“waaaaait a second, Gastro” you say. “It’s a fucking Moroccan restaurant. Of course they do cous cous well.”
“not so!” says I. “Couscous doesn’t just have to be cooked right, you have to get good cous cous. This cous cous is fluffy and light and spiced just enough to compliment whatever they throw on top. It’s the tagine, I tell you, these things are amazing. I have to get me one of these.
There were a few downsides, mainly the too-loud french language hip-hop, although to be fair, the waitress told us to holler if it was too loud, and we didn’t. I would really like an expanded menu, but I suppose I should go back and eat more than one thing before I complain about options. With corking fee, we got out of there for under $35. I will certainly return.
3202 S.E. Division St.
5 p.m. to 10 p.m. daily