80 Pearl St., Cambridge
Lunch: Tue–Sat, noon to 3 p.m.
Dinner: Tue–Sat, 6–10 p.m.; Sun, 5:30-10 p.m.
Tucked discreetly beside Creation “N” Hair and Cambridge Auto, its modest black and white sign blending in with the other businesses, Baraka Café doesn’t stand out to the casual observer. But behind the door plastered with Yelp! and Zagat recommendations lies an authentic North African experience, one I would never have heard about without the recommendation of a friend from pika.
I’m a sucker for small, unique, and exotic eateries, so of course I had to have dinner here with a friend. When I opened the door, I walked into a little piece of North Africa: walls covered with posters and paintings, iron filigree mirrors and room dividers, ornate lamps dangling from the ceiling. Although the restaurant is small, there was no wait, and the restaurant never reached full capacity on the Saturday night I ate there. Around me were quietly conversing young professionals and married couples without children.
The waiter was attentive and courteous, despite having some issues with English. We started our meal with a glass of cherbat ($2), a lemonade with a sprinkle of rose petals and a mint garnish. The refreshing lemon comes out full force at the first sip, fading to be replaced by a glorious aftertaste of rose and mint, like the memory of a summer day. We split the bedenjal mechoui appetizer ($3.95), an eggplant and garlic spread with a dollop of yogurt, served with toasted white and whole-wheat pita strips, but it was more of a single-person dish. The creamy tanginess of the yogurt paired well with the eggplant, making the dish worth the awkwardness of trying to pile eggplant on thin strips of bread.
Baraka Café’s menu includes a seasonal section that was a little above our college-student price range, costing $15–17 per entrée and featuring fish, lamb, and other fare. Instead, I ordered the classical couscous ($8.95), featuring a mildly spicy medley of beans, lentils, cabbage, squash, zucchini, and carrots over tiny couscous grains and served in a rustic wooden bowl. Although the beans were firmer than I like them, the vegetables were tender and hearty, making this vegetable dish more satisfying than many others I’ve had. My partner had the melfouf la kasbah ($11.95), a dish of lamb sausage, beef, and chicken skewers served on a bed of salty fries and with a side salad. The chicken was seared perfectly, with a crunchy blackened exterior yet a tender, flavorful inside. The beef had a tangy sweetness that was not too overpowering. However, I found the tchektchouka, a lamb sausage, too dry for my liking. The fries were not the usual thick, crisp affair but thinner and less crunchy, pairing well with the vegetables drizzled in h’rissa vinagrette.
The dessert menu ranged from more familiar fare, such as crème brulee and flourless chocolate torte, to the more exotic Algerian baklava. We opted for the more traditional crème brulee, which arrived with a crisp burnt sugar topping dusted with powdered sugar, although not with the “house cookie” as promised in the menu. The cream inside was studded with vanilla beans and we savored every morsel.
Baraka means “blessing” in Hebrew and Arabic, and I’d like to give my very own to this wonderful find. This hidden gem is perfect for a date that doesn’t break the bank or simply an enjoyable dinner with good friends.