Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood is many things–charming, friendly, and well-read among them–but one thing it’s not is cool. At least that was true, until the opening two years ago of Talde, the namesake restaurant from noted Top Chef contender Dale Talde. While most celebrity chefs locate their restaurants in the glamorous, tourist-heavy ‘hoods of Manhattan, Talde and his partners chose to go just slightly off the beaten path, staking their claim to the corner of Seventh Avenue and 11th Street instead. In doing so, they created the area’s first true destination dining spot, drawing in guests from all over the city anxious to try Talde’s unique take on Asian fusion. Join their ranks on your next date night and you’ll discover that far from milking his Food Network fame, the Chicago-born chef is firmly focused on delivering the goods, and you’ll often see him on the line making sure every dumpling, noodle, and shiso leaf is perfect.
Don’t let the distance put you off. Talde’s just two short blocks from the subway, so even if you start out in Midtown at six, you can easily be munching on pretzel pork and chive dumplings by a quarter to seven. But if you have to wait at the bar for a table–a likelihood on weekends–you’ll hardly be suffering, with innovative cocktails like the Chinatown (with Diplomatico Venezuelan rum, Laird’s Applejack, lime, and cherry) and the BBQ Negroni, which gets its unique flavor from burnt orange and smoked sweet vermouth. Once you’re comfortably seated in a semi-private, high-backed wooden booth or at a cozy table with a view of the open kitchen, it’s time for an exciting culinary journey through Asia. Talde’s family hails from the Philippines, but he channels the flavors of Thailand, Vietnam, and China as well, creating a menu of exotic, satisfying dishes perfect for sharing.
To start off, ask if the perilla leaf appetizer is available. It’s a one-bite masterpiece topped with peanuts, Thai bird chilies, tamarind bacon caramel, toasted shrimp, and coconut, and it represents the essence of the restaurant. Moving on to heartier options, you and your date can cross chopsticks over samosas with spicy English peas, oyster and bacon pad Thai, and crispy pork belly–so tender and succulent it hardly requires chewing. The Korean fried chicken, with spicy kimchee yogurt, is perfect for those who like it hot, while seafood fans will agonize over whether to order the whole roasted branzino in banana leaf or the king crab fried rice (can’t help you here–they’re both amazing). Whatever you choose as your main course, one particular dessert is essential: halo-halo, a Hawaiian-inspired shave ice sundae with condensed milk, coconut, pineapple, lemongrass, and tapioca, topped with Cap’n Crunch cereal. This light, silky treat not only puts out the fire from the evening’s spices, but its delicate flavors complement the cocktail that’s still in front of you in a way that a slice of tiramisu never could.
All the while, you’ll relax into a lively atmosphere of jazzy music, funky Asian decor (a smiling ceramic cat waves at you as you enter), and a sophisticated crowd of Manhattan foodies and hungry locals–including, quite possibly, the mayor, who lives down the street. But even with the the occasional bold-faced name, it’s clear Talde–both the restaurant and the man–cares more about delivering a dynamite dining experience than a parade of gossip column fodder. That you get a full helping of the first and a soupçon of the second makes an evening here all the more special.