Photo Credit: Caroline Elliott
TAKOS: The problem with “fusion” cuisine, in general, is that it frequently diminishes its components by combining them, rather than elevating them. In other words, the whole is less than the sum of the parts, not more. I’m not sure if the new Takorea (311 E. Broad St., 706-521-8131), a small chain out of Atlanta that offers Korean tacos (or “takos,” as the menu has it) is exactly fusion—there’s little about its offerings that counts as Mexican—but it does suffer from some of those problems.
Ensconced in the former Etienne Brasserie, in a large, attractive space with a long bar that runs down one whole side of the room, it’s added the occasional piñata and some signs lamenting the existence of Taco Tuesday because it teaches our children that tacos are only for one day a week. (Sidebar: Takorea does offer a Taco Tuesday special, during which all of its tacos are only $2). The menu consists of nine different Korean-accented tacos, available with flour tortillas for the default and corn upon request. In addition, you can get the same stuff as a burrito or a rice bowl, and the Gogi Nachos are very similar, as well.
The main problem is that, although that sounds like a lot of options, in practice the flavors are virtually the same throughout, thanks partially to an over-reliance on gochujang, the red-pepper sauce that is a foundational element of Korean cuisine. Are you eating a chicken tako or a barbecue pork one, a fried chicken tako or a beef one? It can require more thinking than you would guess to figure it out. Most of the “takos” come with not only gochujang in such abundance that it drowns the flavors of everything within, but also “tako salad,” which mostly consists of chopped romaine lettuce with a bit of thinly sliced cabbage.
The veggie options are particularly depressing, consisting of a vegetable tako that includes whole sautéed button mushrooms (essentially a bag of water with mild mushroom flavor) and a tofu tako that could be promising (cubes of tofu fried in sesame-soy sauce) but instead is awash in blandness.
The better options are the seafood takos. Both shrimp and fish are lightly fried and come with hoisin tartar sauce as well as gochujang, meaning a lighter hand with the latter condiment. The “premium” section in general, which also includes the fried chicken tako and the Sticky Chicky (with an apricot glaze that’s not overwhelmingly sweet), is a much better bet. The rice and beans (Korean-style white rice, black beans) you can get on the side are severely under-seasoned, although the rice is well-cooked, and the kimchi, available in both cucumber and the better-known cabbage, is decent.
Is there anything wonderful to eat at Takorea? There is one thing: the sesame fries, which come in either a half or a whole order, with chipotle ketchup on the side. What tastes like gomashio (a Japanese/Korean combination of ground, dried sesame seeds and salt) is incorporated into the batter, giving the fries plenty of flavor but not too much, and even when served in a Chinese take-out container, they remain magically crisp. They’d make a fine snack in the wee hours.
Takorea is open Monday through Wednesday from 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m.; Thursday through Saturday, 11:30 a.m.–2:30 a.m.; and Sunday, noon–9 p.m. It has a full bar, including a few beer choices on draft, and does specialty cocktails with soju, the Korean distilled alcohol that can be made from rice, barley and even sweet potatoes.
BBQ BEAT: Should you find yourself in Augusta, a trip to Sconyers Bar-B-Que (2250 Sconyers Way, 706-790-5411) is fairly obligatory. Famous for catering at Jimmy Carter’s White House, it occupies a compound off the beaten path, complete with massive koi (fed on barbecue?), a water wheel and more.
The atmosphere, unfortunately, beats the barbecue itself, which is too finely chopped, and the famous house hash, served over rice, which has a funky aftertaste. The sauces, however, are excellent, available in varying degrees of vinegary hotness, and the fact that the waitresses wear dresses resembling dirndls and the male workers wear overalls contributes considerably to the experience.
Bread comes still in its plastic sleeve, and metal tools hang everywhere. Considered straight-up as plain smoked meat, the turkey beats out the pork, ribs and beef, although the beef takes second place. Sconyers is open 10 a.m.–9 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, and serves no booze.