Marination

Overall: 3.5/5

Apologies for the extended hiatus. As much as I would like to say that my absence was due to a worthy cause, I am afraid that more trivial pursuits caught my attention. As part of our annual ritual of Spring cleaning, now is as good of time as any to clean out the camera cache and write some posts.

Speaking of absences, the food scene in Seattle has long lagged behind West Coast mate Los Angeles in terms of Asian-fusion eats. The folks at Marination capitalized on this opportunity approximately five years ago to introduce its interpretation of Hawaiian-Korean comfort food to Seattle. From its humble beginnings as a food truck, the Marination brand has expanded to three brick-and-mortar locations in the King County.

The team’s latest eponymous venture sits in Amazon’s Doppler complex (dubbed the Regrade). The interior is in the shape of a Tetris block, with just enough room for a single row of counter seating.

Tailored to serve the grab-and-go lunch crowd, the young and friendly staff fuss about rapidly to crank out orders. And you might as well take your order to go since the angular, 3-legged stools lining the counter are very uncomfortable. [Editor’s Note: the abstract stools have been replaced with more conventional, 4-legged ones]

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You should expect a crowd during lunch times on weekdays. You can also use Amazon’s Prime Now service to order in advance.

Tacos (Kalbi Beef (L), Sexy Tofu (R), $2.75 each) – with slaw, pickled jalapenos, sesame seeds, and Nunya Sauce.

First of all, what’s Nunya Sauce? The cashier told me that “nunya” means “none of ya business.” After a taking a good look at my puzzled expression, he said that it’s a spicy aioli/mayo, but the ingredients are kept secret. For what it’s worth, it tastes like tangy mayonnaise. For what it’s worth, I don’t think I will be taking home a jar of Nunya Sauce available for sale in the cold case anytime soon.

But, I digress. The tacos were good but had some flaws. The kalbi had a very nice salty-sweet flavor from the marinade, but the meat lacked tenderness and was jerky-like. The tofu was semi-firm. The lightly fried tofu was and had a light soy-sauce flavor. The slaw brought an appropriate crunch. The jalapeños were more briny than spicy. The tortillas were limp and soggy by the time I brought these home – experience may vary for those who eat these on the spot.

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Fish Tacos ($3.00 each) – Fresh cod in a miso-sake marinade, corn tortilla, cream, pickled onions, and cilantro.

The cod was moist and flaky. The miso flavor was subtle. Again, the acid from the pickled components unbalanced the flavors. And again, the tortillas leave a lot to be desired if you do not eat the tacos on the spot.

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Tater Tots ($4)

Complements the menu. Crispy on the outside, molten starchiness on the inside. Note that it comes with “special seasoning”. From what I can discern, it the seasoning is nori-based. Having ordered these on several occasions, the umami flavor comes through at times. Other times, not so much.

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Kimchi Quesadilla ($8) – with kimchi, cheese, Korean-style crema, slaw and pickled jalapeños.

If you like the concept of mixing kimchi and quesadillas together, you will probably like this. With the slaw and the pickled jalapeños, the quesadillas feel redundant to the tacos, so I recommend picking one or the other if you go in for a meal. In contrast to the tacos, the grilling prevents the tortilla from getting too soggy or limp. The kimchi was appropriate pungent and sour.

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Korean Cheesesteak ($9) – Kalbi beef, grilled onions, jalapenos, melted cheese, mayo, baguette.

The beef along with the onions suggested a traditional cheesesteak, but the cheese and mayo were not very noticeable. The unyielding baguette was also a poor choice for a cheesesteak sandwich.

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Pork Katsu Sandwich ($11) – Pork cutlet with panko crust, ciabatta, tonkatsu sauce, mayo, red onions, and tangy slaw.

The best thing on the menu. The pork katsu had a crunchy crust, giving away to a nice patty of tenderized pork. The tonkatsu sauce and the mayo brought some tangy moisture to the denser cutlet. The slaw brought some additional crunch. The use of the soft, giving ciabatta here works well here. It may be the most expensive thing on the menu, but it is undoubtedly the best.

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Kimchi Fried Rice ($7)

No explanation necessary. Loaded with a sunny side egg on top, breaking the yolk on top coats the rice with the viscous yolk. The furikake topping brought umami and fragrance. Note that you can pay extra to add protein to the fried rice, but you would be sacrificing the amount of kimchi that’s in the fried rice. I prefer to stick with no protein for this.

The experience at Marination can be a little uneven at times and a little redundant. Your degree of enjoyment will primarily depend on your receptiveness to fusion cuisine. The price is reasonable considering the location. Despite its flaws, those with a diverse palate will probably have a good meal at Marination.

 

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Marination

Bao Down (Vancouver – Gas Town)

Overall: 3.5/5

In the Gastown section of Vancouver is Bao Down. The unassuming storefront is easy to miss, but is located just steps from the Gassy Jack statue. The style of food can be best described as Asian take-out tacos. Instead of the tortillas, the transport vehicle is the bao – a type of steamed bread. At its best, its sweet, sticky, spongy, and dense. Really perfect for fatty meats such as duck or pork belly. Long story short, bao’s been around for a long time, people smarter than me have found creative ways for using bao, and here we are today. So, let’s assess the damage.

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The YVR ($6) – Bao with sesame seared albacore tuna, wasabi mayo, baby pea shoots, avocado, sweet soy and double smoked bacon

This was pretty good. The caveat being that I am a sucker for tuna, so things have to get pretty messed up for me to hate this. The flavors that shone through were the bacon, avocado, and the tuna. In fact, the whole thing kind of tasted like a BLT. On the other hand, the dressings were not very noticeable, while the baby pea shoots added some unobjectionable color and some texture. As a general note, the bao itself was sweet and dense, though I would have prefer it to be a little warmer.

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Japoyaki Poutine (Large $8) – Fries with curry sauce, cheese, jalapeños, seaweed, and sprouts

This is an example of fusion done right. Everything coalesced nicely here. The crunchy fries were worn down with the cheese and curry sauce, the jalapeños added heat, the seaweed added umami. My cholesterol level would be unsightly if this was more convenient to obtain.

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VeVo ($5) – Shitake mushrooms, garlic pea shoots, sprouts, organic red kale, avocado, organic carrot & beet strings, ginger peanut sauce and toasted sesame seeds

This came courtesy of my wife, who does not eat meat. I appreciate places that accommodate people’s diets, but this did not do much for me. The main problem being that baos are just not the ideal vehicle for vegetables. As you bite through the dense bao, what you want is something greasy or crunchy to provide a contrast. This does not happen here. It’s competent, but not something I would go out of my way for.

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Jaws ($5) – Coconut crusted catfish, kimchi tartar, microgreens & cabbage in a Thai vinaigrette.

This was pretty good as well. The catfish was crunchy and slightly flaky, though I couldn’t really discern the coconut from the crust. The tartar was tangy (but couldn’t discern the kimchi element, which might have drowned out by the vinaigrette). As you can see from the picture, the veggies were colorful and fresh.

Finally, it’s hard to tell from the pictures, but the baos are not very large in since, about a size of a fist in most instances. It will take about 2-3 bags to feed an average adult. The pricing is fair, but your bill may easily go north of $20 per person if you are really hungry.

Bao Down (Vancouver – Gas Town)