In Garden City for a wedding this weekend, we shot over to Brooklyn before heading back to Massachusetts to have brunch at Talde yesterday (3-24-13). Being avid Top Chef fans we enjoyed watching Dale on both his regular and All Star seasons and his food always stood out to us and our Asian-leaning palates. We visited Buddakhan in Chelsea two summers ago and really enjoyed the flavors and overall experience.
Unfortunately, the food was a major let down here. Shockingly average and pedestrian with a few mistakes. We ordered a few plates to share:
Korean Fried Chicken and Waffles: I'll start off with the only real positive to me and that was the coconut brown butter syrup. Awesome stuff! That's something I would purchase if sold and I WILL try to replicate at home. What bummed me out the most was the chicken. Korean fried chicken is touted for having an egg-shell thin and ultra-crisp crunch and what I got were your average, local pizza shop fried chicken wings that came in a buffalo wing-like sauce. There wasn't any type of discernible crunch and if there was one coming out of the fryer, tossing them in a liquidy buffalo sauce wasn't the right move.
The sauce didn't make any sense to me, as the appeal of chicken and waffles to me is the play of salty fried chicken and the sweetness of the waffle and syrup and this version of sweet and spicy just doesn't have the same allure. If he were going the way of a hot sauce, why not do something with gochujang, a Korean hot pepper paste? It's an obvious move in my opinion, given the Korean connection and the fact that it wouldn't saturate the crust like a wetter sauce would. I just think doing a Korean brine (which could be injected to ensure crispiness when it comes time to fry) would have guaranteed a juicy, flavorful, salty seasoning from inside that would worked better with the sweetness of the waffle. More attention needs to be paid on the crispiness of the wing and while I didn't care for the hot sauce, I would expect someone who was on Top Chef twice to marry the sweet, salty, and spicy better to make me a believer.
Shrimp Toast with Chinese Sausage Gravy: I enjoyed the pronounced shrimp flavor but this whole dish was a salt bomb. Didn't notice much Chinese sausage in the gravy.
Pretzel Dumplings: This was an obvious order given that this might be his signature dish. The crunch was good and the pork and chive filling wasn't unlike any other pork and chive filling I've ever had. The bites that had that thick, round 'pretzel salt' were good and I believe that's the way Talde probably wants it presented but there wasn't enough salt covering the dumpling to make sure you got that in every bite. Overall, disappointing and not worthy of the hype.
Bacon Pad Thai: Your run of the mill pad thai. I live in a culinary wasteland here in Western MA and I've had these same flavors before. I just expected something 'more.'
The service, from the hostess to our waitress was very good. The place is really very small. We couldn't believe how tiny the open kitchen was; I think food trucks have more room to work with. Our seats were by the window facing the kitchen and we were literally no more then an inch or two from the next table. The waitress was serving their food over my left shoulder. The noise here is LOUD. My girlfriend asked me to repeat myself at least a half a dozen times. These are things that I don't normally care about or bring up to friends when they ask how my experience was, but when the food is just 'meh' all these other factors really start to bother you and weigh down the experience overall.
We didn't read any Yelp reviews prior to our brunch but as someone who is usually critical of his experiences I felt a little better that we weren't the only ones with problems as we scrolled through Yelp and Chowhound on our ride back. The food wasn't necessarily bad, but it was by no means special. The title on of the review threads on Chowhound is 'Talde: How did he get so far in Top Chef Allstars?' and that's how we both felt leaving. While our experience at Buddakhan was great, I wonder how much influence he really had there being that there are a few locations. Our favorite bite of that evening was the edamame dumplings and the recipe for that on Star Chefs was given by Chef Michael Schulson, so it's not as if that wasn't even Dale's recipe.
In any event, I wouldn't return and wouldn't recommend the place to anyone, especially if they were coming out of state.