Last night I finally had the opportunity to dine at Talde, the restaurant you might have heard of that opened nearly a month ago on the corner of Seventh Avenue and 11th Street. The brainchild of Top Chef and Buddakan alum Dale Talde along with Thistle Hill Tavern's David Massoni and John Bush, it's technically "Modern Asian Fusion", but that descriptor doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of what's happening here. Talde instantly raises the culinary bar in Park Slope.
Walking into the crowded bar area, it takes some time to get acclimated to your surroundings. You're enveloped by people patiently waiting for their tables as they sip wine or a cocktail designed by Bush, and the room, with its muted colors and "Oriental"-themed carved wood from an upstate mansion, immediately sets the stage for a decidedly non-traditional dining experience.
Once seated (in one of the three booths or at the kitchen-facing counter, if you're lucky), the show really begins. The attentive, knowledgeable wait staff informs you that the dishes are served family-style (a nod to traditional Chinese restaurants), so you'll want to order some sticky rice or Asian bread toasted with butter and black pepper on the side. The wine list is expansive, but I'd recommend trying (at least) one of the cocktails, especially the Pacquiao Punch (above), a concoction of rum, vodka, curacao, vanilla, and citrus juices served in a pitcher for two.
But on to the food. When it comes to uniqueness, there's no bite more fascinating than the Perilla (or shiso) Leaf starter (top). The leaf itself tastes like a cross between mint and oregano, and when topped with bacon-tamarind caramel, toasted shrimp, coconut, peanuts, and a thinly sliced Thai chili, the flavor combination hits on all notes, from salty to spicy to sweet to sour to briny to crunchy. It's a perfect way to prepare your palate for the meal ahead, and is one of the craziest, most perfectly composed bites of food I've ever had.
Hawaiian buns are also a good choice for a starter. They come in three varieties: Filipino pork sausage, crispy fluke, and market vegetable. My favorite was the sausage bun, which tastes more like a comforting barbecue sausage slider than anything else, topped with fennel and a spicy mayo and tucked into a fluffy, slightly sweet bun.
The Shortrib Kare-Kare is a mammoth hunk of boneless meat, slow cooked to the point where you can shred it with a spoon. It comes in a pool of Filipino curry sauce, an intoxicating mix of peanut, coconut, Thai chili and cilantro stems. It's at this point when you'll be thankful you ordered that side of sticky rice and buttered toast to mop it up with.
The BBQ smoked pork shoulder (above) is brined in mustard and miso for 24 hours before spending 12 hours in the smoker, and while every other smoked pork shoulder I've seen has been shredded, this is simply sliced into a giant, tender, nicely-charred chunk of pig. The smokiness is the first thing you notice, but it's so intensely porky, with an umami kick from the miso and a crunchy counterpoint added by some julienned pears, that no sauce is necessary.
If you have any room left for dessert, there's only one option, and it's off-menu. Called Halo-Halo, it's one of the Philippines' most popular treats. Shaved ice is topped with a staggering assortment of ingredients that change nightly. Last night it came with lemongrass, chiles, coconut cream, condensed milk, coconut jelly cubes, candied coconut strips, spiced pistachios, dried brined mango, wok-charred bananas, lychees, and, of course, Captain Crunch. Absolute insanity.
There is no restaurant in the neighborhood, or possibly the entire city, that can compare with what chef Talde is accomplishing at his restaurant. So much of Dale himself comes through in each of these dishes, eating his food is almost like listening to a symphony he composed, or studying a work of art he painted, but not in a stuffy, highbrow way. Each dish draws on his Filipino background but incorporates modern American comfort food sensibilities, along with an unmistakable sense of fun.
Chef Dale works the room
Talde, 369 Seventh Avenue Brooklyn NY 11215. 347-916-0031. Reservations for groups of 6 or more only. Lunch and brunch service beginning in a few weeks.