Serious Eats

T.G.I. Friday's New Korean Steak Tacos

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[Photograph: Niki Achitoff-Gray]

I usually come to chain restaurant eating assignments without any agenda beyond minimizing mayonnaise intake and ignoring the confused looks of fellow diners who don't understand why the camera-wielding weirdo is composing a still life with chicken sandwich and notebook.

I love to eat, of course, but I approach food on more of a physical level than an emotional one: I don't root for or against any particular cuisine or restaurant, because I'm not trying to prove a point or validate a prejudice; I'm just trying to enjoy my lunch. If the food's good, then I enjoy it like a normal person. If the food's bad, then I enjoy it like a food reviewer who appreciates the silver lining that negative appraisals are easier to write.

But despite my inclination toward neutrality, I have to confess that I dressed for my date with T.G.I. Friday's new Korean Steak Tacos with a desired outcome in mind. I really, really wanted to like these things. I have no particular love for Friday's or anyplace like it, but as soon as these new tacos were announced last month, the hipper-than-thou blogger backlash began: How on Earth could a chain restaurant serve a credible Korean taco? The foodist part of the Internet simply could not accept the possibility that a Korean taco could be prepared outside of a truck, never mind inside of a place that serves mango huge-a-ritas to people who live in—hold me!—the suburbs.

So I wanted to like the T.G.I. tacos, because I wanted to advance the idea that you can make a nice meal without making a fashion statement or joining (or killing) a movement. But alas, this was not a nice meal. I still say the foodists are wrong in their belief that a Korean taco can't be good unless it's served from a truck with a line of skinny beardos making a scene in the front and a grandma making kimchi in the back, but T.G.I. Friday's did nothing to advance my cause, and for that and a crappy batch of tacos they must be punished.

For $9.99, T.G.I. Friday's brought me three corn tortillas fairly well loaded with cubed steak ("Black Angus flat iron," to be pretend-exact) that was topped with a couple chunks of cucumber, what appeared to be a bean sprout or two, a few shreds of pickled carrot that the menu calls "ginger-lime slaw," and a handful of whatever comes out of the salad station's Mixed Greens bag. There was also basil and cilantro in the reading, though none was evident in the chewing. Two of the tacos had cursory squirts of Sriracha, the third had none.

Let's start at the bottom. The tortillas were disconcertingly thick and squishy, more injera-like than one expects from a taco, but that's all right, I didn't mind them. Next up was the beef, which was tender and plentiful and otherwise forgettable. It was soaked in soy and sugar and had the precise big, dumb, generically pan-Asian flavor the foodists knew it would.

The cucumber chunks were very good, much better than the grocery store cukes I've been sighing my way through for the past six months. T.G.I. Friday's rooftop cucumber garden doesn't seem to have any room for greens though, because the rest of the vegetables were fresh but flavorless. As mentioned above, two of the three tacos featured little dots of Sriracha that served, as Sriracha does, to make the bites they touched taste like nothing but garlic hot sauce. All three tacos were overdosed with a blinking neon ginger-lime sign of an Asian Dressing™.

And yes, foodists, the platter does indeed arrive audibly sizzling with a side of jasmine rice (and they were out of rice on my visit, so yes, they gave me french fries instead).

About the author: Will Gordon loves life and hates mayonnaise. You can eat and drink with him in Boston or follow him on twitter @WillGordonAgain.

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