Talde Jersey City has been rocking and roaring, especially on weekends, since it opened in February in a renovated space in downtown Jersey City, epicenter of the city’s restaurant renaissance. Talde JC, a few blocks from the Grove Street PATH station, has a split personality. It is both a crazy-loud, see-and-be-seen nightspot where the pan-Asian food can seem an afterthought and a sometimes serious restaurant with lounge-lizard trappings.
Chef/co-owner Dale Talde, 36, a first-generation Filipino-American from Chicago, has been visibly on the rise since competing on Top Chef in 2008 and Top Chef Masters in 2010. A CIA grad, he had previously cooked at Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Vong in Chicago and Stephen Starr’s Buddakan in New York, both restaurants practicing various forms of Asian fusion. In 2012, he opened Talde—his own take on Asian eclecticism—in Park Slope, Brooklyn. It quickly became a sensation.
Talde’s Jersey City partners, David Massoni, John Bush, John Colaneri, Anthony Carrino and Carrino’s father, Alphonso, own the building. (Anthony and his cousin John Colaneri starred in HGTV’s Kitchen Cousins. Adjacent to Talde JC, they have opened Carrino Provisions, an Italian market, espresso bar and restaurant that serves Dale Talde’s Italian menu.)
Talde JC’s menu includes many items from Brooklyn and adds some Jersey exclusives, mainly dim sum-style appetizers such as bao buns filled with spicy chicken or char sui boneless ribs and pickles. The latter is called the McBao. In a phone call after my visits, Talde said, “The McBao is my riff on a McDonald’s burger. My mom didn’t allow us to eat fast food. So when I was finally living on my own, that was all I wanted to eat.” The rolls were dull and doughy and the fillings scant, so in that sense, the McBao did resemble fast food.
Other dishes, like wonton ramen, are classics (a bowl of Japanese ramen with sliced pork) that add a trendy twist (kale, Chinese wontons and the sweet Japanese soy sauce called tare). Some, like yuzu guacamole, are more inventive than involving; three small, crispy rice wafers are smeared with guacamole and topped with a little square of La Quercia ham. Talde’s $23 Korean twice-fried chicken is crisp-skinned and moist, but hard to distinguish from regular fried chicken, and the kimchi-flavored yogurt is reminiscent of bottled ranch dressing. The halved green grapes scattered on the plate seem like refugees from a salad bar.
Talde has been concocting recipes “since I was eight or nine years old,” he told me. “I grew up with 96 first cousins, and there was a christening or baptism every other day. The aunties would bring amazing dishes like oxtail or shrimp noodles. When I’d ask my mom to cook them, she’d say, ‘I’m cooking something else. If you want that, make it yourself.’ So I learned how.”
Nearly every table, Talde said, orders pretzel pork and chive dumplings—four dim sum pillows served with tahini-mellowed Chinese mustard and sprinkled with what Talde calls pretzel salt. The salt crystals are big and do add interest to the tasty dumplings. Also worth ordering are tuna-tartare spring rolls, made from cannoli-like tubes of deep-fried rice dough stuffed with raw ahi tuna and crispy shallots.
Crispy oyster and bacon pad Thai, a Park Slope favorite, stars oysters dredged in rice flour and fried. You can’t taste the bacon, but a Thai-style fish sauce with tamarind, lemongrass, kaffir lime, garlic, sugar and roasted peanuts picks up the slack.
Beef short rib kare kare (pronounced kar-eh) with Hong Kong (thin egg) noodles was full of flavor. “It’s not meant to be a traditional kare kare,” said Talde, referring to the Filipino classic in which various meats are stewed in peanut sauce. “It’s meant to make you happy.” He braises his short ribs in coconut milk. Slathered with brightly pickled Thai chile relish, the dish would be happiness on a plate were the portion not scanty for its $18 price.
“I’m not into dessert,” Talde confessed. His mango “pie”—chunks of dried mango braised in coconut milk, wrapped in a sugared roti flatbread and deep fried—is dense and decent. I would rather finish with the flatbread called the Everything Roti. Pan-fried to order, it tastes of coconut and is topped with toasted shallots, poppy seeds and coarse sea salt. At $4, it’s the menu’s lowest-priced item and the one I liked the most.Click here to leave a comment
Cuisine Type:American - Asian - Pan-Asian
Price Details:Appetizers, salads, dim sum, $8-$15; noodles, $15-$18; entrées, $21-$31; sides, $10-$17; desserts, $10-$12
Ambience:Thumping, industrial-chic nightclub
Service:Helpful and hardworking
Wine list:Better value thsn the cocktails