Recently, my hot gf and I went to a new Asian fusion joint in Jersey City called Talde. She tracks restaurant openings to a T: when she’s not serving me a delicious dish at home, chances are someone is serving us someplace else. I suppose she deserves a break every now and again.
This is actually the second installment from Chef Dale Talde and partners, John Bush and David Massoni. Their first is a popular spot in Brooklyn, which doesn’t surprise us. We often speculate how Jersey City is becoming “Brooklyn-ified”, and don’t mind considering the result has been places like Thirty Acres, Park & Sixth, and Third and Vine. We also like that we don’t have to go over 2 bridges to get to them.
When we entered Talde, it was packed and had a great vibe. Dimly lit lanterns hung above the bar spanning the left wall, sturdy metal chairs surrounded rustic wooden tables spaced comfortably apart, and Asian artwork modestly decorated the large, industrial space. Hip-hop music filled the room but not at the cost of conversation—and admittedly, I don’t mind Drake. I chimed in to “I got my eyes on you, you’re everything that I see, I want your high love and emotion endlessly,” but we weren’t going home anytime soon. Especially since we were told it would be a 45-minute wait.
We located the only 2 open chairs at the bar when a guy in a Yankees hat helped us get situated. It happened to be the owner John, and I asked him if he would mind if I took pictures for a review. He enthusiastically replied, “Not at all!” and recommended the Tuna Tartar Spring Roll, one of the new items featured at their Jersey City location. The person next to us insisted we try one of hers and we could see why.
Chef’s Note: The spring roll had a perfectly crisp exterior, while the tuna inside was soft and delicate. It was a great balance and would be a dish perfect for someone who thinks they might not like tuna tartare.
For drinks, my hot gf ordered a “Lychee Martini” and I got a “Ginger Rose”. Mine had bourbon, applejack, lemon, and ginger-cinnamon grenadine, and I enjoyed it. She liked hers, but mentioned there was no actual lychee in it.
Moments later, we were greeted by Chef Talde himself. I found it pretty admirable of him to step out to meet us on a busy night, especially when we later discovered he has been on Top Chef (we are currently caught up in the Boston season—go Gregory!). I’m sure his excitement diminished when he discovered we weren’t Tom Colicchio and Padma, but some unassuming couple with a blog; yet he didn’t frown, and that’s says a lot about character. So far, I got the impression from both owners that we mattered, even if no one had any idea who the hell we were.
Having worked in the restaurant industry for years, I’m a strong believer in making service a top priority. One time I served David Diehl, and treated him roughly the same as anyone else. Another time I included a baby as the 8th person on a check to get gratuity at TGI Friday’s, but comped his apple juice. The customer, regardless of who they may be, always comes first. It doesn’t surprise me that these guys have 3 other successful establishments.
Talde’s bar menu offering is limited to dim sum, which is far from “a dim sum”, boasting 11 items to choose from. We went with the Pretzel Pork and Chive Dumplings and #6 Bao. My juvenile mind couldn’t resist the temptation to request the bao like the infamous Russian roulette scene in The Deer Hunter: “Gimme bao! In… mouth!” But I refrained. This information is irrelevant, unless you want to get a sense of who this review is coming from. Don’t worry; I didn’t slap the bartender while I ordered.
The pretzel dumplings arrived first. My hot gf elegantly picked one up with her chopsticks, dabbed it in the mustard sauce, and took a bite. I attempted to do the same before dropping it three times, grew frustrated, and grabbed it with my bare hand like a Grizzly clawing a salmon. They were crispy on the outside, savory on the inside, and the spicy mustard was a great substitution for traditional soy-based sauce.
Two bites later I was on to my next one, when suddenly my half-eaten dumpling nearly dropped from my mouth. From across the bar, I eyed up a waitress with some succulent buns approaching and thought, “I want that.” When she set them down in front of me, I was practically drooling—they were so plump and delicate, I imagined sinking my teeth into them. My hot gf quickly snapped me out of my daze, exclaiming, “That’s bao!”
“Oh… right,” I said, as I picked one up. I took a bite and told her, “This reminds me of a gourmet Wendy’s Spicy Chicken Sandwich!” before stopping to consider how undignified I sounded. She tasted one and agreed, which confirms our palates work since research later revealed this is exactly what they were going for. The finding triggered an “a-ha!” moment in regards to where the “McBao” sparerib option gets its name.
Shortly after we finished our appetizers, a table became available. The waitress informed us plates are meant to be shared, though we would have done this anyway—we’re one of those couples. We ordered the Beef Short Rib, Crispy Oyster and Bacon Pad Thai, and Wok Charred Greens.
Our favorite selection of the night was the Beef Short Rib. Upon tasting the salivatingly tender meat in a tamarind glaze mixed with the subtle sweet combination of pumpkin, apples, and basil, my taste buds found bliss. And yes, I made up a word in the preceding sentence to capture a sentiment: it was that good.
We found it hard not to love the Crusty Oyster and Bacon Pad Thai. For starters, there were chunks of bacon in it—literally bite-size morsels. Altogether, it was a really flavorful dish, but our main complaint was that our noodles were undercooked. According to my hot gf, she “should be able to bite through them when eating with chopsticks”. For me, it was a tad bit spicy. At one point I had to stop eating because my throat was on fire and tongue was throbbing. I probably ate a pepper, but might consider the “Chow Fun” next time as per the waitress’s recommendation.
The Wok Charred Greens that night were Brussels sprouts. These kicked ass, and this is coming the guy who isn’t a huge fan of them normally. Cooked to perfection, they had a great texture and savory peanut flavor.
We were pretty full at this point and skipped dessert, which happens on rare occasion with me. I can’t deny I had a tough time saying “no” when the waitress described their chocolate ganache cookie containing layers of pretzel and potato chip, but my hot gf gave me a look like, “C’mon, you know that cookie isn’t going to make you any sexier tonight.” So I turned it down in hopes she wouldn’t turn me down later. In retrospect, had I eaten the cookie I would have been too incapacitated to do anything, so it wouldn’t have mattered.
On that note, if you’re in the mood for great Asian fusion in Jersey City, look no further than Talde!