The Temple Club was opened 6 weeks ago by Geoffrey Deetz, an American chef who used to cook in Oakland, but moved to Viet Nam 16 years ago and only recently returned.
The short version: We both adore this place, and Deetz has a wonderful ability to bring out pronounced, nuanced, balanced flavors with his superb command of herbs and spices from Viet Nam. The lunch was so satisfying that we went back to grab dinner the same day.
The long version:
I didn’t know what to expect before Saturday’s lunch. The menu seemed full of dishes from central Viet Nam- Hue, Da Nang, etc. that aren’t commonly seen elsewhere in the Bay Area. The chef spent considerable time in Viet Nam, but is he a Danny Bowien, or is he a David Thompson?
Mi quang phu chiem (street size)- absolutely excellent, and an absolute steal at $7. You tell me there is a best-of-the Bay $7 dish elsewhere, and I’d send you here to eat this mi quang first. Heck, a Chipotle burrito costs more than $7 these days. This dish was $6 a few weeks ago- that was just insane.
It came with small chunks of shrimp, pork, a bunch of aromatics like shallot, green onion and the heavenly annatto oil. This yellowish oil was at once supremely savory, fragrant and briny, it probably contained the condensed essence of multiple spices and herbs. The dish also came with a little bowl of what looked like a clear chili sauce/ broth on the side, that added another dimension to the whole dish. Regrettably I only noticed its presence on the table until the very end. Al dente flat rice noodles. Wonderful dish.
Pho bo chua- corned beef brisket, green onion, onion in a “sour” beef broth over rice noodles. Its the chef’s winning dish on a Food Network show. I didn’t taste much sourness in the broth, hence the quote. But the broth tasted strongly herbal and minty. Can someone who has a better command of herbs tell me what that herb was in the broth? Not tarragon but had a somewhat similar refreshing profile that tasted sweet, grassy, and a little like anise. I believe its his wife, and she said that dish was not very Vietnamese. But its still a very tasty adapted bowl of pho. Pho was al dente.
A side note about street size vs American size noodles. The street size bowl looks a little small but it contains a deceptive amount of food. The kitchen sends broth that’s concentrated in flavor too.
Canh ga chien nuoc mam- Vietnamese version of fried chicken wings, coated with a strong and sweet-tasting combination of BBQ and fish sauce with taste of black pepper. Came with a small bowl of pickled spicy Vietnamese eggplants for the chicken to be dunked into. Its not bad.
Goi cuon nem chua- rice roll with grilled sour pork, pig ear sauce, rice noodles and a sesame/ pork liver based sauce. A little sourness from the pork and a little earthiness from the sauce added a bit of excitement to the otherwise boring-to-me rice rolls elsewhere.
Goi Tai Heo. A better version of the cabbage and banana blossom salad that sometimes comes with dishes in restaurants serving food from Hue. Bright flavors from very fresh mint and rau ram. Pig ears added a crunchy textural dimension, along with crushed peanuts. A bit of heat from the doctored-up fish sauce balanced the rest of the dish.
Bun bo hue- A very fragrant broth that contained a type of chili that was brightly flowery like Sichuan pepper but without the numbness. Also contained quite a bit of funk from fermented shrimp paste, and with the fried garlic flakes, a bit of bitterness too. With plenty of beef essence that came from hours of simmering, its an orchestra of flavors. Al dente round noodles duly absorbed all the flavors. Came with all usual parts like pork knuckles, blood cube, brisket, beef leg, pork cake. Its a great bowl of BBH, and I’d give the nod of this BBH over An Nam’s much-lauded version. Note the use of basil versus mint.
Since I got this to-go, I saved the broth (that promptly congealed in the fridge) for cooking my own noodles in this the next day. The noodles absorbed all that complex and delightful flavors, and I saved what little broth left once again for another round of noodles later this week.
Ga Nuong La Chanh- grilled chicken with lime-pepper dipping salt with a side of jasmine rice. Not bad, but almost seemed a bit too safe compared to the noodles.
Durian cheesecake- very light and mildly sweet cheesecake with a good dose of mellow and nuanced durian flavor injected into the cheese. My wife raved about the dish and proclaimed that its a wonderful piece of cheesecake and that its her favorite dish over two meals. I liked the savory noodles much more but still enjoyed the cake very much.
Overall, two very successful and great value meals, with three very successful bowl of noodles. A full-throated recommendation from us. The chef changed the menu often and I saw some dishes online that weren’t on the menu that day. When I called to ask to place a phone order for dinner, the chef or someone from the kitchen went ‘we change the menu often so we may not have what you had before’ and I went ‘well its not an issue- i have your menu from a few hours ago’.
He said he wanted to add something different to the SFBA Vietnamese food scene. He most certainly did. If I don’t live so far from Oakland, I’d go to this place frequently. Go before it gets tough to get in. Good thing its in East Oakland that deters a bunch of the trend-seeking crowd. The Temple Club is a great addition to Oakland dining.
Please, please, please- I am dying with curiosity your opinion about all the dishes!
Cultural appropriation? To me, it applies to people who butchers other people’s cuisine. With his superb command of Vietnamese herbs and spicing, and a healthy respect for the cuisine he cooks, I can’t imagine anyone making such an accusation of Geoffrey Deetz and The Temple Club.
Please note that the restaurant is located in a somewhat quiet stretch of International Boulevard, especially at night. Reservations accepted.