Eating with chefs is one of my favorite things. There’s an unconscious understanding of the value and pleasure of the present moment, of mutuality, of generosity, of constant learning. Even though I had just met three of the other guests, we started trying each other’s cocktails right off the bat. Without a word, each of us took turns divvying up the different plates. And we all had a lot to say, critiquing out of a spirit of shared learning and exploration. No silent inhaling of calories, no fussy eaters, and no stiffing on the check.
My friend Sung is my favorite kind of chef: she’s an artist with an insatiable quest for learning. She is dizzyingly excited by food and has an appetite that outsizes her tiny frame. Talde is an Asian-American restaurant in tree-lined Park Slope. There are mahogany wood-carvings on the white walls, and the food is served on inexpensive, colorful decorative plates. We started at the bar, ordering perilla leaves, kung pao chicken wings, and pretzel pork and chive dumplings. Perilla, an herb in the mint family, had a nice bite of shrimp, coconut, bacon and peanuts. The dumplings worked well, the fattiness of the pork was absorbed by the saltiness of bits of pretzel. But the chicken wings were the real standout: crisp and juicy, with a perfectly balanced sweet spicy sauce and a cool buttermilk ranch. For cocktails, we tried a few, but the standouts were the lychee martini, nine roses (four roses bourbon, dry vermouth, chinese 5 spice), a slushy cocktail with green tea and whisky (the flavors were right, but we would have preferred it on the rocks), starfruit sangria, and the watermelon margarita (served with a salted slice of watermelon). The bartender and the server were clearly having fun and highly competent, which is the best kind of service.
At the table, we had the kale salad, lobster tom kha, whole roasted branzino, Korean fried chicken, smoked char siu pork shoulder, orange beef ribeye and broccoli, and shrimp egg foo yung fried rice. And the halo halo for dessert. We can put it away.
We all agreed that the branzino and the pork were the standouts, both for technique and for flavor. The whole branzino was wrapped in a banana leaf and grilled, boneless except for the head, packed with tomato and topped with an abundance of fresh herbs. The fish was moist and had a hint of turmeric. We had been torn between the branzino and the sea bream, but the waiter recommended this choice, saying it was her favorite. She made the right call. The pork was served sliced like a loin, not shredded. It was bursting with umame flavor, and served with watermelon and peanuts. Close seconds were the ribeye, where we could detect a hint of orange essence on the broccoli, the beef was well-seasoned and the dehydrated slices of orange pulled it all together. The kale salad, with two types of kale, fried and raw, shaved radish and squash, was bright and tasty. The hibiscus tofu tasted almost like a smoked mozzarella. And the ponzu dressing balanced it all out.
We had a blast. We are an opinionated bunch and there were so many interesting ideas and flavors. We left inspired and content. Will definitely be back.