Talde has been a Jersey City hotspot for years. Aside from their underground speakeasy and most recently, epic Drag Brunch (Hudson County’s first and only), Talde stands as one of New Jersey’s best representations of Filipino cuisine. The homage to their roots is evident perhaps now more than ever with the unveiling of their spring menu, inspired by Executive Chef Ruby Felix’s travels.
“I went back to the Philippines last February for the first time in 18 years. I fell in love with it again and this [menu] is me embracing my heritage,” she explained. Chef Felix worked closely with Lead Mixologist Michelle DeSantis to create a cohesive food and beverage program that focuses on fresh, clean and locally sourced ingredients that embody the very essence of springtime—as well as pack a flavorful Filipino punch. I attended an exclusive spring menu preview at Talde where I could taste Chef Felix’s heritage, just as much as the amount of heart she puts into her food.
To kick things off, DeSantis showcased a set of 10 craft cocktails that take a page from some of what Chef Felix is cooking up in the kitchen. The spring cocktail menu is first and foremost colorful—everything except blue, DeSantis recalled—and takes cues from the fresh and local aspect of the food. Across both menus, you’ll see the same fruits, vegetables and garnishes being utilized like edible flowers and cucumbers.
DeSantis is making all of her purees and syrups in-house, avoiding artificial sweeteners whenever possible. The Huckleberry Mule, she told me, starts with her boiling down pounds and pounds of huckleberries to extract their natural sweetness and the drink comes together as a mix of vodka, her house-made huckleberry shrub, fresh lime and ginger beer. She’s also muddling kumquats and chamomile for their #Kuatgoals cocktail and emulsifying cucumbers and thai basil into a syrup for their One Compelling Gimlet—made with Dogfish Head “compelling” gin, a company you might recognize for their brews.
I’m a sucker for anything Aperol so I gravitated towards DeSantis’ Rhu-Berry Spritz, a blend of gin, Aperol, prosecco, house-made strawberry and rhubarb puree and fresh lemon. It’s every bit as light and refreshing as it sounds. The Passion Margaritea deserves a mention as well, not only for its pink presentation but as a tasty twist on a classic made with tequila, triple sec, hibiscus tea, rosehips and fresh citrus.
My multi-course meal started off with Talde’s Impossible Eggrolls, which are essentially a cross between Filipino lumpia and an American cheeseburger. Chef Felix is stuffing them with her own version of Impossible Foods’ burger meat substitute made from seitan, tempeh, sushi rice and crimini mushrooms. There’s also some vegan cheese in there which she makes out of potatoes, carrots and nutritional yeast and they’re stacked on a bed of Sriracha ketchup and topped with pickled cucumbers.
On the lighter side, Chef Felix served up vegetarian tacos with shaved pickled daikon shells and a filling of mushrooms flavored with Korean pears, gochujang, double soy and vinegar. I also tried the Green Papaya Salad, a Thai-style dish that includes pickled green papaya, jackfruit, arugula, orange segments, fried calamari, peanuts and a nước chấm dressing that she’s concocted out of thai chilies, sherry vinegar and olive oil. Both were equally as satisfying (and surprising).
There’s no shortage of mains to choose from starting with the Korean Fried Chicken that OG Talde-goers might remember from years past. Chef Felix is putting it back on the spring menu after revamping the recipe. The chicken is first marinated in kimchi yogurt, which will also act as the sauce later on. The chicken is roasted in the oven first, then fried, and served with seasonal fruit. This past week it was green grapes but Chef Felix said to expect pickled peaches to make an appearance this season.
There’s also her take on Beef and Broccoli, made with a petite filet cut that’s traditionally used in beef tartar and flavored with dark soy vinegar; a strip steak served with onion rings and finished with a soy beurre blanc sauce; or the real show stopper, a Tomahawk Pork Chop that sits on a bed of edamame pea puree. The chop is beautifully plated with laing—the Filipino version of curry made from shrimp paste, fish sauce, banana peppers, jalapeno and finger chilies—wok charred turnips tossed in togarashi and watermelon radishes.
In terms of sides, there’s no way to go wrong whether you order the potatoes fried in duck fat and tossed in an adobo glaze, their vegetarian fried rice or seasonal vegetables which in this case was asparagus, topped with 6-minute eggs, crispy ham and nam pla aioli made from fish sauce, capers, anchovies, mayonaise and chilies.
Not to forget about dessert, there was one offering in particular that Chef Felix spoke most passionately about. The mango hand-pies are maybe the truest iteration of Filipino flavor, with the fruit being sourced literally from the island of Cebu. The mangoes come to the restaurant dehydrated and Chef Felix then soaks them in coconut milk, chilies and salt until they’re soft and plump. They’re rolled into flaky pastry dough, baked off and are served alongside chantilly cream flavored with bourbon and macapuno (the strings of the coconut). If you’re a milk and cookies purist (and hey, there’s nothing wrong with that), Talde is also home to what I’d describe as Levain-level chocolate chip cookies that come with a glass of lightly sweetened Chai steamed milk.
While I try to figure out which dish (or drink) I enjoyed the most, head over to Talde and see for yourself what their spring menu has to offer. Check out their website for more information.