Pretty dining room, a prime corner in the popular Sixth Avenue eating district and a chef with a penchant for layering flavors and textures – Marrow Kitchen Bar is trying something unusual for Tacoma. So far? I like it. The restaurant was opened Aug. 2 by Jaime Kay Jones and husband Jason Jones, who in 2007 opened Top of Tacoma, a popular McKinley neighborhood lounge. In the kitchen at Marrow is co-owner Kyle Wnuk, who until recently was chef of Dirty Oscar’s Annex, also on Sixth.
While half of the menu is devoted to meat-eaters (more on that in a bit), the restaurant serves double duty with a menu of vegetarian creations with sophisticated flare and not a morsel of tofu or gimmicky meat substitute in sight. In a play on words, the meat side of the menu is Marrow, named after the restaurant’s signature bone marrow dish, and the vegetarian side is Arrow, as in “straight as an arrow and meatless,” as Jones described it.
Wnuk has created a vegetarian menu that leans on grains and legumes: French lentils, the grain farro, and red and white quinoa dressed with fresh herbs, pungent cheeses and unusual vegetables such as baby romanesco, a green cauliflower hybrid that looks like something hipster space aliens would revere. This is elevated eating, and served with style on linen-dressed tables with sturdy flatware and cucumber-kissed water in a modern dining room decorated with funky glass bottle artwork, swinging exposed light-bulb pendants and melodic beat music pulsing in the background. The look is smart, the menu thoughtful, the flavors and textures varied. My only request? Turn on the air conditioning. On a balmy night, the dining room is sweat-inducing.
The meat portion of the menu offered a few unusual items that Tacoma diners have not seen much collected in one setting – duck, oxtail and escargot, for starters. I sampled only one item from the meat menu – braised oxtail ($15) popped with brazen meaty flavor, slow cooked with slippery wisps of sweet onions, an accompanying bone jiggling with piping hot marrow fortified with garlic and basil that tasted unctuously fatty (an acquired taste, at least for me).
Enough with the meat. It was the vegetarian menu that commanded my attention, if only because I know and frequently hear from diners in search of vegetarian options, and I struggle with the short list of options. I’ll come back later to write more about Marrow’s meat-focused menu, but for now, I’m delving into the veg-friendly side.
A seasonal menu of salads, starters and entrees – eleven choices in all, not counting the vegetarian-friendly dessert list. Wnuk said his kitchen isn’t large enough to maintain two separate cooking lines, but he keeps pans, utensils and grill space separate. The deep fryer is dedicated for vegetarian items only. Can the menu turn vegan, meaning absolutely only plant-based ingredients, hold the dairy? Some dishes can, said Wnuk. Just ask your server.
Is the concept working? So far, so good, said Wnuk, a committed omnivore. He said diners split 50-50 on ordering vegetarian or meat entrees and he’s sure meat eaters are crossing over into veg-territory. Although some diners may stumble at eating elbow-to-elbow with a diner mowing through bone marrow, Wnuk said most diners have seemed to take in stride that both meat and non-meat eating styles are supported at Marrow.
Oregonzola cheese stuffed squash blossoms ($8) always lose the delicate nuance of the bloom when breaded and fried, but the creamy pungent blue cheese stuffing in concert with the slippery blossom made for a pleasing tension with the crunchy exterior. A watermelon salad ($8) was sweet and refreshing against peppery arugula, creamy chevre and thumped with a Bing cherry and balsamic vinaigrette.
A starter of quinoa cakes ($8) with red pepper coulis combined red and white quinoa, a chewy grain with a nutty note, black beans, lentils, garbanzo beans and flax seed meal. The cakes came pan-seared with a crunchy shell breaking into a creamy center flavored with kecap manis, an Indonesian style of thick, sweetened soy sauce. The same quinoa cake showed up as the base of the Arrow burger ($12) on brioche from Essential bakery - roasted red pepper and frisee gave a slight crunch. In fact, more crunch would have been nice, the burger was good, but mushy.
French lentils were earthy delicious ($14) with pumpkin seed oil and threaded with large shreds of refreshing mint, and topped with the cheese-stuffed squash blossom. If you must try one dish at Marrow, make it Farrotto ($13). Farro, an ancient grain seeing renewed enthusiasm among chefs, was slow-cooked and flavored with Beecher’s cheese and a mix of wild mushrooms – the result was a magical dish resembling risotto with a nutty, firm texture.
Marrow Kitchen BarWhere: 2717 Sixth Ave., TacomaInfo: 253-267-5299 or marrowtacoma.comHours: 4 p.m.-2 a.m. Tuesday-Saturday(closed Sunday and Monday)