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Week in Reviews: Baraka Slightly Downgraded, Plus SPQR and Pacific Catch

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With Jocelyn Bulow's new Chez Papa project nearing its opening date, Michael Bauer returns to Bulow's just-sold enterprise, Potrero Hill's Baraka, where the basic tenant of the restaurant remains the same, in spite of its change in ownership to Michelle and Justin Hughes:

The couple made very few physical changes, but the warmth is evident when diners walk in the door. The greeting is enthusiastic, and if there are empty tables, customers can take their pick. That same amiable attitude permeates the service.

Chef Chad Newton, who worked at Postrio in San Francisco and Redd in Yountville, continues to replicate the Mediterranean-inspired menu ... While the food isn't quite as exciting or well executed as when the place opened five years ago, Newton is doing a good job, and the prices remain reasonable.

Though Baraka maintains its "lively buzz" and neighborhood appeal, it doesn't have quite the same brilliance as it did during the Bulow era, and thus The Bauer shaves some points, dropping it from three stars down to 2.5 stars. [Chron]

Amanda Gold has just two stars for the Inner Sunset's new happening spot, Pacific Catch, where she tries her best to decipher the growing chain's popularity: "Close proximity to Golden Gate Park means that on most evenings the tables are filled with families toting strollers and children. The location might also play a role in the restaurant's popularity. It certainly isn't the calamari. On a recent visit, a pile of fried squid ($8.95) was laced with fresh chiles and slices of battered lemon, but the light-blond crust was barely crisp and the seafood underneath bland and rubbery. Yet, the restaurant has other redeeming qualities." [Chron]

Two major reviewers take their turn at wunderkind SPQR this week. Up first, Josh Sens of SF Mag shares his thoughts, which are positive, albeit not glowing like others': "To say the cuisine is not complex is not to suggest it lacks subtlety. Cooking this unfussy still requires a careful hand. SPQR walks, and sometimes crosses, the thin line between beautiful and boring. This trespass can even take place in the same dish on a different night ... For all its nods to the Old World, SPQR is perhaps most compelling when it embellishes more freely on Italian traditions." [SFM]

Paul Reidinger, also beginning his SPQR review with "Eternal City" references, finds infatuation with the small plates: "The ethic involves, in true European fashion, elements of preservation and innovation; A16 brought the flavors of Naples and Campania, including first-rate pizza, into the space once occupied by Zinzino, a creditable ristorante-pizzeria in its own right, and now SPQR succeeds Chez Nous, a pioneer in global tapas (with a slant toward Provence and the Maghrib), with a Roman-inflected menu that's very heavy on fabulous small plates. They're not called tapas, and since tapas fatigue set in some time ago around here, this is probably a wise choice ... those little stimuli probably would have been enough if the other dishes hadn't been so impressive." [SFBG]

ELSEWHERE: Meredith Brody kills three birds with one stone as she visits several local sandwich shops, including Petite Deli. The Guardian's secondary review sends Ailene Sankur to weather the sushi boat at Clement Street's Fune Ya, the Merc's Aleta Watson is at San Jose's Seven, the MIJ is at Mill Valley's Thep Lela for Thai, and rounding out this edition of the Week in Reviews, we remind you of Bauer's Sunday 2.5 star review of Fish & Farm.


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