Marination

Repeatable: Maybe. Visits: 1

If you haven’t already heard of Marination, you’re not alone. I, too, live under a rock and don’t keep abreast of local foodie news. I also travel a lot and am decidedly not an obsessive-compulsive type, which is good for marriage but bad for blogging. This is the short reason for why I haven’t posted since, ahem, June.  After several folks repeatedly inquired, I decided to break my months-long silence today by writing about this Hawaiian-Korean flavored taco truck that seems to have rabid fans following their every move on Twitter. I don’t Tweet either, so that’s another reason why I’m so late to the dinner party.

The reason I finally tried Marination was simple: They were giving away their food in the Safeway parking lot on top of Queen Anne, as part of a Key Bank promotion. I’m a sucker for free food (hello, Costco!), so I got in line, snagged my ticket, suffered the Key Bank shpiel, and  ordered the kimchee fried rice, the Kahlua pork sliders, and a kalbi taco.

Sounds like a lot, but the portions were small, maybe because of the promo. Of the three, the kalbi taco was the best; maybe because I ate it first, while I was hungriest. The meat was intensely marinated, and the cabbage slivers were dressed in a very pleasant white sauce that I wouldn’t mind keeping in my fridge as a go-to condiment. The pork slider was pretty good too: more of that white sauce, some orange sauce that reminded me of the pureed kimchee sauce I recently had at Momofuku Ssam in NYC, and strings of Kahlua pork, all set atop a bun that was more burnt than toasted. S’OK. There were lots of people, and I’m not a stickler for perfection.

However, I did wish the fried egg atop of the kimchee fried rice hadn’t been so runny. I nuked it for a minute, to be on the safe side, before eating. For such a brightly oranged colored dish, the fried rice wasn’t nearly as spicy as I expected. In Hawaii, kimchee-fried rice ypically packs more punch; it also usually involves Spam. There’s nothing like Spam in kimchee fried rice, but I guess Seattleites are scared of the stuff, because there was no Spam anywhere in sight on the menu.

Marination is definitely fun and different. Like all of these trendy new food trucks, this mobile eatery requires some technical assistance, since the truck parks in a different spot every day. If you want to track them down, consult the schedule on their website. If you, like I did, serendipitously stumble upon it, then stop in your tracks, saunter up to the window, and order some tacos. Next time I run into Marination, I’ll even consider paying for my food.

Marination Mobile (locations vary) on Urbanspoon

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Kaya Asian BBQ & Grill

Repeatable: Yes. Visits: 2

Atmosphere is usually not a significant part of the dining experience when you eat Korean. But for every adventurous diner who relishes the cheap thrills of eating in grungy surroundings, there are others who eschew dinginess and insist on the total package. With Shoreline’s Kaya (20109 Aurora N, #102, 546-2840), there’s finally a place where these two types can sit down at the same table.

If I were the owners of Everett’s Kawon, I’d throw some significant change into remodeling, because Kaya offers seriously good food in a seriously fine atmosphere. The dark wood and sleek lighting feel like something out of a Vegas bar, except that over every table there’s a massive venting hood. On a recent Sunday night at 5:30pm, the entire cavernous space was filled to bursting with beautiful young things who were not only paying attention to the food but to each other as well.

Kaya is the Seattle outpost of a notable LA chef, who has brought a refined touch to certain classics like thinly sliced beef. Here, there are three dipping sauces to choose from instead of just the traditional sesame seed oil-salt mix. The marinaded meats are perfectly flavored, and all grill options come with the requisite assortment of banchan, salad, and soup. Maybe the assortment isn’t as generously varied as it is at Kawon, but it’s certainly as tasty.

Kaya also serves a mean naengmyun, the cold buckwheat noodle soup that is, for many Koreans of a certain age, de rigeur slurping after every golf game. The broth–a gorgeously clear beef consomme–is served partly frozen, so that the noodles are suspended in something that resembles in texture a melting Slurpy. Add vinegar and hot mustard to taste, and you have an absolutely brilliant hot weather lunch.

Soups, such as yukhwejahng, the spicy shredded beef soup, daengjang, spicy miso, are all hearty, made to order, and extremely tasty.

Closer to Seattle by half the distance, Kaya will definitely start pulling away some of Kawon’s regulars. The menu is more expansive, and the prices extremely reasonable. Throw in the grown-up atmosphere, and you have an actual contender for a Korean restaurant that can also be considered a fine dining destination.

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Genki Sushi

Repeatable: Yes. Visits: 6+

Genki's conveyor

Genki's conveyor

For some reason, hot weather seems to bring out the sushi fanatics in droves. I’m not one of them, but my husband and kids are, so we found ourselves at Genki Sushi for the umpteenth time this weekend.

Convenience isn’t the only reason we go–Sushiland is right across the street, and I’ve never returned after my initial visit. Genki is actually the best of the kaiten sushi options in the Seattle-Tacoma area. Granted, that’s not exactly high praise, but kaiten, or conveyor-belt, sushi isn’t exactly haute cuisine.

Still, when it’s well done, kaiten sushi is fun fast finger food, and there are lots of interesting combinations at Genki, such as the very Hawaiian Spam musubi roll and the fantastic Ahi Poke roll–which, we learned today, was just taken off the Seattle menu because there’s not enough demand for it here.

This is truly a sad state of affairs, because the poke at Genki–a zesty salad of ahi bits, onions, garlic and soy-sesame dressing–is the best poke we’ve had outside the islands. Not enough demand, the Japanese sushi chef explained. The Genkis in Hawaii and Japan still serve poke–it’s one of the chain’s most popular items. But not in Seattle. Hello?

Aside from the freshness of the fish and great deals ($1 sushi at Happy Hour!), Genki also offers fantastic options for vegetarians and hard-core sushi eaters, which may explain why two-thirds of the customers are visiting Japanese. My hunch is that this place is just a wee bit too authentic for the likes of Seattle. Seriously, folks: Who was going to grab those big hand rolls of natto riding along the belt? (If you’ve never tried these slimy fermented soy beans before, recall what you did with your finger and your nose as a small child…Natto is eerily similar…)

Speaking of kids: Genki is a great place for little ones. First, there’s the instant gratification of the kaiten: My daughter ate eight tobiko rolls that she grabbed off the line with her tiny hands. So what if she went to bed smelling like bait.

Then, there are the a la carte menu items, conveniently served in appetizer portions for bar-style grazing. This means that the order of tempura udon or chicken teriyaki is down-sized to perfect dimensions for little appetites. Considering that these items are all priced well below $5, you’ll be extremely pleased with the final bill.
Genki Sushi on Urbanspoon

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Tutta Bella

Repeatable: Maybe. Visits: 2+

Tutta Bella Pie

Tutta Bella Pie

Seattle is not New York or Chicago, so you can fuhgeddabout all the fine distinctions that make pies worthy of either the Big Apple or the Windy City.

Still, Seattle’s trying. Tutta Bella isn’t exactly news anymore, but it’s representative of the wave of artisanal pizzerias that have recently opened up.

Without naming additional names, let me say that there’s an eerie similarity to these pizzerias, and I’m just holding Tutta Bella up as the most obvious and established offender: paper thin crusts splotched by bubbles of black char.

Burnt dough simply doesn’t taste good–I don’t care how much sauce, cheese, or creative topping is surrounding or covering these ugly boils. And yet for some reason, the local fancy pizzerias insist on offering up these offenders. Why?

Until I actually experience a pizza that is not partially burnt, sooty, or charred, I cannot recommend Tutta Bella without reservations. That simply hasn’t happened yet. At best, I can salvage a piece or two from an entire pie. And then I wonder: Is it really worth the trouble and expense?

That rhetorical question makes me think of the ne plus ultra of American pizzerias, Pizzeria Bianco. Located in, of all places, Phoenix, Arizona, Bianco offers up the kind of pizza that I will gladly suffer a trip to the dessert just to eat–pizza that’s worth a great deal of trouble and expense. (And Phoenix is much closer than Chicago and New York!) In April, we ate there twice; I stood in line for an hour both times to hold our places. As we were boarding the flight back to Seattle, my husband and three children walked on carrying their own boxes from Pizzeria Bianco. “Is it really that good?” someone asked. My children nodded solemnly, clutching their boxes for dear life. They’re still talking about the experience wistfully, asking when we’re going back. “Mama, that pizza was the best pizza in the world.” “Not quite,” I say. “There’s a couple places in Italy I gotta show you…”)

South Lake Union
Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Columbia City:
Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Wallingford:
Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria (Wallingford) on Urbanspoon

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Filed under 15654811, Casual, Italian, Kid Friendly, Lunch, Pizza

Canlis, again

Those of you who saw my Canlis post come and go can now see my official review online at Seattle Magazine. The print edition should hit the stands by the end of this week.

My editors at Seattle Magazine didn’t want to muddy the waters with the blog, so I partially pulled that post. Some of you may remember that the post was a bit more blunt, but the end result was still the same:

Repeatable: Maybe. Visits: 4.

I’ve been asked by friends if I plan on going again. I’ll wait and see if there are any significant changes. The dessert chef who so underwhelmed me is gone now, so maybe I should mosey on over to sample some sweets. If I do, you’ll be the first to know.

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Seastar

Repeatable: Maybe. Visits: 1

Seastar is an ambitious space in a likeable place: A spanking new swanky seafood restaurant next door to the Pan Pacific Hotel in Seattle, right above Whole Foods.

That description of Seastar’s location also serves as an apt description of its fare: One step above Whole Foods, next to 4-star status but not in the same league. If the space reminds you of an anonymous, expensive team-designed production, so will the food. It’s technically slick but soulless.

There were five of us on Friday night, and we ate early, so there was no excuse, really, for the slow service. Five minutes for the menus–I timed it. Another 10 for our server to take our orders.

If the food had been splendid, all would have been forgiven. But the scallop penne was goopy and pedestrian, the Caesar boring, and the steak OK. Even the kids wouldn’t eat their meals: More oversauced pasta with chunks of chicken–though we had specifically requested no meat, please.

Of the starters, the lone bright spot was the crab and corn chowder, which was sweet with corn and nuanced with crab. The cedar plank roasted mushrooms sounded great, but were really just a bowl of large, slightly undercooked mushroom chunks with a slightly smoky flavor. The pesto-steamed butter clams were interesting, but the overwhelmingly salty pesto soon turned my mouth numb.

On account of that lovely chowder, I’m willing to give Seastar another try. The menu is huge, and it’s entirely possible we had bad luck ordering. Though it was a Friday night, and the place wasn’t exactly hopping.

Seastar Restaurant and Raw Bar (Seattle) on Urbanspoon

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Lunchbox Laboratory

Repeatable: Yes. Visits: 2

Lunchbox Lab burgers and fixin's

Anyone who likes playing with their food will love Ballard’s Lunchbox Laboratory, where you can tailor a burger’s patty and condiments from the ground up. The menu of options is dizzying. For the patty: beef, “dork” (duck and pork), lamb, churken (chicken and turkey). For the rest of it: condiments from the usual (lettuce, tomato, bacon, onions) to the exotic (truffles, half a dozen cheeses, and doctored ketchups and mustards). There seems to be only one type of bun, a fluffy, glossy brioche-like pillow that happily cushions whatever artery-clogging pile of ingredients is placed upon it. The bun gamely holds together until the first bite, when it collapses and pretty much everything starts dripping out, all gooey and luscious. Yes, the burgers are damn good. They’re also damn greasy. (They’re not cheap, either. A special–burger, fries, drink–will set you back at least $14).

Folks who love this place really love this place–like my husband, who has shortened his life span by a couple years in a two-week span by visiting half a dozen times. Not exactly a compulsive type, I could understand the Lab’s appeal after one visit. The tiny storefront is long on atmosphere: The hand-scrawled chalkboard menu, kitschy lunchbox collection, drinks  in laboratory beakers, and ubiquitous patina of grease all conspire to conjure up a mod American diner. The only things missing are the swiveling stools and Formica countertops–which may happen once Lunchbox relocates, as the chalkboard outside helpfully announces.

The details here are worth calling out: Sweet potato fries and tater tots can be showered with a choice of gourmet salts and seasonings; shakes can be vanilla or “special,” like the Pina Colada, with its snowglobe storm of coconut bits. I love a good shake, which is why I’ll be coming again. As long as I’m in the neighborhood, I may have a burger as well.

Lunchbox Laboratory on Urbanspoon

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