A couple of years back my Filipino buddy got married. There was an elaborate buffet and everybody stuffed themselves. After dinner we were settling back with some San Miguels when I noticed a stampede toward the kitchen. The Filipino guests, alerted by a secret signal, were making a run on dessert. Bowl after bowl of halo-halo came floating out in the hands of beaming guests. By the time I got there it was too late. When Josh Valentine remixed the dessert on Top Chef Seattle, I renewed my effort to figure out what the halo-halo fuss was about. Thursday night, at Talde in Park Slope, I finally completed my quest.
Halo-halo is Tagalog for “mix-mix,” a reference to the odds and ends that come together to make this classic Filipino dessert. The foundation of the dish is shaved ice, like a snow cone crossed with a treasure hunt. Chef Dale Talde’s version leans on squares of coconut jelly, flakes of young coconut, and tapioca pearls. If the other sweet nugget in there looks and tastes a lot like Cap’n Crunch, it’s because it is Cap’n Crunch. Beyond the stoner brilliance of putting breakfast cereal in the mix, there’s a subtle sophistication to the flavors. A simple syrup permeates the ice, flavored with coconut water and infusions of lemongrass and chile.
The result is uplifting, hitting just the right notes to cap off a feast (kung pao chicken wings, charred rib-eye in black pepper caramel, and oyster and pork belly pad Thai were my favorites off the revamped menu). Even one year on, Talde is still buzzy, but halo-halo is plenty reward for whatever table-waiting dues you’ve had to pay.
The next time I’m at a Filipino wedding, I’m camping out by the kitchen the instant the dinner plates get cleared away.
[Photo: Anne Massoni]