As much as I love the show Top Chef, I sometimes wonder how good the food really tastes. When you’re overstretched and running on little sleep, you’re probably not on top of your game, and I’m sure there are moments when you slap a half-baked dish together and hope for the best.
That pretty much sums up my feelings about Talde, a restaurant in Park Slope run by Top Chef alum Dale Talde. Dale was a contestant on one of my favorite seasons of all time, Season 4 in Chicago, and he definitely seemed like he had anger management issues. For such a hot-tempered person, he surprisingly puts out a mild plate of meek Asian food at Talde. Some of the plates seemed like contenders for the “middle of the pack” dishes in a Quickfire challenge–technically well prepared, but lacking depth and a strong point of view to break them into the top tier.
The pretzel pork and chive dumplings would have ranked towards the top in a challenge, but not quite enough to win the whole thing. Dumplings are so beloved for their juicy, flavorful filling, an essential quality that was lacking in the ones at Talde. The tangy Chinese pork filling had a lot of potential, but it was too dry, and it didn’t help that the thick and crispy, won-ton like wrapper created a tight seal around the meat. The paste-like consistency of the hot mustard dipping sauce only made the dryness issue even more obvious.
The wonton noodles, on the other hand, were extremely disappointing. I’ve had such better renditions of noodle soup from just about everywhere, ranging from Excellent Dumpling House in Chinatown to my mother-in-law’s house. The superficiality of the broth was really surprising–I wonder if the kitchen boiled a few oxtail bones in some water and threw in the towel after 30 minutes? The noodles and wontons were actually very well done, while the accompanying kale bits just seemed out of place. This soup would have been so many notches above its current state of blandness had they only allowed the broth to fully mature and absorb all the flavors of the ingredients.
Luckily there was a standout dish that clearly showed Dale’s abilities as a Top Chef. This came in the form of the vibrant and soulful whole roasted branzino. The wonderfully fleshy branzino fillet had been completely deboned, allowing us to conveniently scoop out each precious chunk in rapid succession. The accompanying tomato chutney sauce was very hearty and tasty, and the bouquet of sharp green basil and cilantro added some memorable and interesting herbal accents. If Dale had made everything like this, then I could see how he might win it all.
As you might have guessed, Dale didn’t win Season 4, nor did he win the All Stars season. He was sort of the “never the bride, always the bridesmaid” type of contestant. Good enough to make it in the Top 10, but not enough to win the whole thing. And the caliber of food at Talde is pretty consistent with his placement. Good enough to be a neighborhood spot with interesting options, but not good enough to warrant a destination meal. That being said, if I’m ever in the area for another Celebrate Brooklyn! concert at Prospect Park, I will probably stop by and see what the bacon pad thai and korean fried chicken are like.
369 7th Avenue (and 11th St)
Brooklyn, NY 11215