At Marinade, Feast on Fast-Casual Korean Fare

A recent addition to Norwood, this "Asian fusion kitchen" offers a small menu of umami-packed dishes.

Spicy soy garlic Korean wings with beet juice-spiked pickled radish and cucumber. Photo by Emily Bell

Even if you’re familiar with Korean fast-casual, there are a few unexpected combinations at Marinade, a young “Asian Fusion Café & Kitchen” on the corner of a small strip mall on Livingston Street in Norwood. A friend and I stopped in there last month to refuel for (just a bit more) competitive holiday retail. After losing any trace of comfort and joy on line at HomeGoods, Korean double-fried chicken wings were almost medically necessary.

Marinade prides itself on wings, deservedly, and the big chalkboard overhanging the front counter actually shows a fairly short menu: Korean fried chicken (regular or “crispy-fried,” wings or drumsticks or mixed, with your choice of soy garlic, spicy soy garlic, or Yangyum Korean red chili glaze), a section called “Korean Fusion” (Korean protein such as bulgogi barbecue, done as a panini or wrap), Korean rice bowls (with a similar choice of protein and unexpected fusion options like mozzarella), salads, Omu-Noodle (more on that shortly) and fries.

After placing our order, we sat down at a big communal table for a short wait as a kitchen somewhere in the back put our food—and more than a few takeout orders—together. As we peeled off five or six layers, respectively, we took in the casual café space: modern, open, well lit (the sleek minimalist bare-bulb fixtures had a strong glow). This seems to be a popular takeout/delivery spot, so seating in the café space itself was ample. There were a few big tables, as well as window counter seating that would make a nice spot for a solo lunch.

Omu-noodle omelet with stir-fried noodles, scallions, soy glaze and bonito flakes. Photo by Emily Bell

Even with the brisk takeout business, our food was prompt compared to some restaurants that will let you sit while endless takeout/GrubHub/Seamless orders are hustled out. Maybe it was the dishes we ordered, but the menu veered toward the conservative side of fusion. Our spicy soy garlic Korean chicken wings ($6.50 for 6) delivered on the double-fried promise with extra juiciness and a crispy-thin skin lacquered (not too generously, no extra napkins needed here) with a garlickly soy glaze that had just a hint of sweetness and heat. The surprise here was the pickled pink (beet-spiked) radish and cucumber garnish. Crunchy, sweet, tangy—it was clearly meant to be a refreshing palate cleanser; we shoveled it down like it was ice cream. We decided that next time we’d try the Yangyum glaze.

Wings dispatched, we tucked into our Omu-Noodle ($8.50, enough for two). A first for both of us, it’s a fusion play on Omurice, a fusion dish consisting of an omelet with stir-fried rice what traces its origins to Japan in the 1970s, and has since apparently became popular in Korean cafes. At Marinade, the Omu-Noodle was a big, warm, soft omelet with stir-fried noodles instead of rice, topped with sweet-savory soy glaze, scallions, and umami-packed bonito flakes (you will shamelessly vacuum them up). If fusion can get clunky, this was simple and richly savory.

Kimchi fries with cheese, scallions, bacon and black sesame. Photo by Emily Bell

We finished with Kimchi Fries, a serious caloric value at $6.95 and arguably the world’s best Asian fusion hangover remedy (if you’re in the market for that sort of thing). Conceptually hybridizing loaded Jersey diner fries and Quebecois gravy-drenched poutine, these were meaty, crispy, twice-fried fries studded with bacon, scallions, melted cheese, and moderate-potency kimchi. Neither of us were hungover physically, but even psychologically (holiday retail), something about the fries was just plain restorative.

The check was nominal: $28 for two, with leftovers. The business is young, though their focus on a short menu, good service, and steady takeout speaks of experience. With the Super Bowl coming up, I might consider putting in a big spicy garlic and Yangyum wings order, with a massive side of that pickled radish.

Marinade Asian Fusion Café & Kitchen is located at 544 Livingston Street in Norwood. They offer free delivery within a five-mile radius for a $20 minimum order, and do plenty of takeout. 201-660-7911.

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