At Talde, the new Asian-American restaurant inside the Thompson Hotel, every dish has a backstory.
For instance, the short ribs are an homage to chef/owner Dale Talde's Korean-American wife. The newlywed and Top Chef alumnus places deboned, prime short rib in a traditional Korean marinade of garlic, sesame oil, Asian pear, water, and onion before giving the meat a good char. Chef Talde then adds thinly sliced Asian pears and sweetened crushed walnuts to round out the plate. What's commendable about this starter is how the charred flavor of the ribs gently offsets the sweetness of the marinade, while the crunchy fruit and nuts complement the tenderness of the meat.
The 37-year-old says he's been impressed with Miami's culinary scene ever since he visited several years ago to open Makoto in Bal Harbour with Stephen Starr. At the time, the son of Filipino immigrants was the culinary director for Asian concepts at the restaurateur's company, Starr Restaurants. Before that, the Chicago-born
When it eventually came time for the chef to make a change, he got together with David Massoni and John Bush, and in 2012 the partners opened Talde in Brooklyn. The pan-Asian restaurant's success led to a Jersey City outpost and, a couple of years later, an offer from the Thompson Hotel to bring Talde to South Beach.
To remind them of where it all began, the guys plucked a sculpture of a wooden dragon from the Brooklyn location. The creature looms by the entryway, next to a photograph of Talde flanked by two swimsuit models making their best duck faces. In all fairness, the chef is holding up a plate of food, and the shot is actually a nod to salacious hip-hop imagery from the 1990s, which remind Talde of his teenage years.
The star chef and his crew — which includes executive chef Jeanine Denetdeel from Talde Brooklyn— don't take themselves too seriously. In fact, they want customers to know it's OK to let loose. To facilitate that, they have the underground-club vibe down pat — from the excessively dim lighting to the walls covered with graffiti by Brooklyn artist Mr. EwokOne to a playlist Talde refers to as "baby-making music."
Meanwhile, smack-dab in the middle of the room sits a massive shipping container that holds dining booths, of all things. So grab a seat and start with an order of kung pao chicken wings. Talde's version consists of Szechuan peppercorns, chilies, peanuts, cilantro, and a splash of sweet chili sauce. The dish came about after Talde made too much kung pao at Buddakan one day and decided to reuse the stuff by throwing it on some wings. Now the Chinese-American sauce Talde holds near and dear is the key to incredibly crisp, finger-licking wings that are addictive.
Conversely, an appetizer of dumplings stuffed with Benton's bacon mix, kale, and shrimp was dispiriting. The dumplings had an acrid taste, and the kitchen drowned them in a vinegar-based sauce spiked with too much maple syrup. Meanwhile, the skirt steak with wasabi chimichurri on a bed of sticky rice was mediocre, mainly because of heavy-handed salting. That said, our friendly and well-informed waiter returned the entrée, no questions asked, and even delivered a cocktail on the house.
Talde's whole branzino is a riff on his mother's "milk fish," combined with a Vietnamese dish he adores. The Mediterranean sea bass is roasted in a banana leaf and enhanced with spices such as coriander, turmeric, and cumin. It's finished with a salad of dill, cilantro, and Thai basil dressed with lime juice and served with moo shu pancakes. Diners can use them to make tacos or simply eat the fish as is — either way, the aromatic and delicate meat will conjure dreams of a voyage to Southeast Asia.
The restaurant's chow fun pairs Hunan-style braised pork shank with a rosette of noodles that diners can either break apart themselves or with the help of a waiter. Talde keeps the noodles intact to retain their crunch and make the plate texturally interesting. Although the crunch is nice, the noodles were overcooked on a recent visit, and an unpleasant amount of braising liquid pooled at the bottom of the bowl. The pork, however, was very tasty and would've been better offered on its own.
Talde admits he's no pastry chef, so there are only two desserts. The first is halo halo, a traditional Filipino dessert that's essentially a bowl filled with shaved ice, coconut milk, coconut gelatin cubes, and fruit and then topped with Cap'n Crunch. It's certainly an original item and is quite good if you enjoy the texture of shaved ice. The second dessert is a caramel and dark chocolate ganache cookie that has potato chips, pretzels, butter, sugar, and salt for a base. The dynamic salty-sweet treat unsurprisingly won the toque a challenge on Top Chef.
At the bar, a lighted sign in Dutch translates to "Unity makes strength." The saying is borrowed from the Brooklyn flag, and it befits a restaurant with such a cohesive ethos: Serve proudly inauthentic Asian-American cuisine in a convivial and hip setting.
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The food, though, leaves some room for improvement, because a truly memorable dining experience begins and ends in the kitchen.
4041 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 786-605-4094; taldemiamibeach.com. Dinner daily 6 p.m. to midnight; late-night noodles Thursday through Saturday midnight to 4 a.m.
Charred short ribs $15
Kung pao chicken wings $11
Benton's bacon dumplings $11
Skirt steak $36
Whole roasted branzino $35
Chow fun $18
Halo halo $12
Caramel and chocolate ganache cookie $10