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Straying from the norm

Marrow Kitchen Bar dares to be different

MARROW CLAMS: Easily shareable. Photo credit: Derek Rowley/Rowley Services

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Marrow Kitchen Bar

Where: 2717 Sixth Ave., Tacoma,, 253.267.5299
Hours: Tuesday - Saturday 4 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Cuisine: New American, uncommon proteins, vegetarian dishes; small plates, full entrees, house-made desserts. Discounted select food items during happy hour 4-6 p.m.
Scene: Casual dining. 21 and over only. Full-sleeve tattooed and pierced couple dines next to Republican octogenarians and shares conversation about their love of T-town. 
Drinks: Full bar- beer, wine and craft cocktails, dry sodas, ginger beer
Prices: $7-$26

ANNOUNCER: Chef Kyle Wnuk of Marrow Kitchen Bar currently offers a winter menu highlighting seasonal vegetables, embracing comfort foods and offering a challenge to the palette. Protein selections stray from the norm; choose from beef cheeks, pork jowl, duck prosciutto, lamb tongue, bison short ribs and more. And the craft-cocktail menu is enticing on its own. Expect shareable dishes, entrees, house-made soups and desserts for vegetarians and omnivores alike. Food and lifestyles writer Jennifer Johnson joins Jason de Paul for this review. Both writers have dined separately and in the company of others at Marrow over the last few months.

JASON: I can wear jeans and a T-shirt to Marrow and not feel out of place. The vibe is a mellow one. Menu descriptions read like an ingredient list. On one visit, my wife and I sat and waited while the server made multiple trips to the kitchen to ask how dishes were made. It would have been nice if she knew the menu where she works. We used the kid-free time to talk to each other, but it would have been a bad scene if we were starved or didn't have two hours for dinner. That said, on other visits the guys waiting on us rattled off cooking methods machine-gun style; there was no stumping them. Good on ya, boys.

JENNIFER: I'm with you, Jason. I guess it's good you can Google ingredients. Though our server, Matt, remained good-humored all the while, he spent a lot of time reciting dish preparation to us. Luckily, we had something to stick in our mouths. Lightly breaded gnocchi mimics tater tots. With actual chunks of bacon in the horseradish dipping sauce, this appetizer is a winner.

JASON: At my wife's encouragement, we tried the Swiss chard gratin. Made from potent arugula, soft fig and creamed greens, and part of the Arrow (meatless) side of the Marrow menu, these flavor combinations worked well. The sea scallop and spinach spaghetti entrée tossed in a pesto with halved cherry tomato also scores highly. Beautifully seared, medium-size scallops remain tender on the inside, a true feat many kitchens fail to tackle. Not fishy in the least, herbed tan-colored sauce spiked with sea urchin boasts garlic as the prevalent flavor, though it didn't overpower the delicate scallop sweetness.

JENNIFER: Recommended by friends, the clam dish contains bits of soft pork jowl, sweet sun-dried tomato, onion, herbs and white beans. My date and I easily shared the generous portion. He thought the beans didn't add much, and I have to agree. However, Essential Baking potato bread dunked in clam broth was addictive. Served on top of three polenta rounds mimicing crostini, the beef cheeks dish is reminiscent of the best pot roast on the planet. Heady, meaty flavor was balanced by fresh pea vine shoots and diced red bell pepper.

JASON: Beef cheeks were incredible, but the texture of the polenta was the standout for me: a firm, crunchy exterior and moderately creamy inside. In August Jennifer wrote about the bone marrow dish's akward presentation. Wnuk has since changed it; bones are now sawed wide-open making marrow spiked with garlic easy to spoon out and onto bread. The accompanying pile of tender lamb tongue is impressively delicious. Served with salted purple potato wedges, Marrow's signature burger was hard to skip, so I didn't. A hearty beef patty, brioche bun, fat slab of pickle, thick cut bacon and white cheddar, there's a lot competing for attention, but it works. Messy as all hell from spicy aioli, pickle and beef juice, and Wnuk's tomato jam (think ketchup, but better in every way), it was a monster to be tamed.

JENNIFER: Also served with purple potatoes, the vegetarian version of the Marrow burger is equally messy. The Portobello mushroom kept trying to escape the grilled brioche bun and take with it quinoa, pearl couscous and lentil studded white cheddar. A few fresh spinach leaves acted like lettuce. The edges of top bun are charred black, but add a positive smokiness to the mix of flavors and a contrast in texture to the softness of everything else in it. I tried one bite with poblano aioli served on the side and deemed it unnecessary. The burger was completely satisfying; no meat needed.

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