[East Oakland] The Temple Club- Central Vietnamese food that wows.


#1

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.


#2

Great review! Thanks for bringing my attention to this restaurant. I’d really like to try the Mi Quang. It’s my mom’s favorite dish. I see that they also offer to sub frogs legs for free! I love frog and I think it would pair really welll with the spicy savoriness of mi quang.

I can’t see make out the herbs in the picture pho bo chua so I can’t ID the herb you refer to. I see green onion and cilantro. Perhaps he added some fennel fronds? Those are sweet grassy and anise like.

I checked out their Yelp page and the chef is getting really creative with his dishes. I agree and don’t think it’s cultural appropriation. He shows a healthy respect for the roots of the dishes while putting his own variations on it. It’s amazing that the menu changes so often. There’s a photo from September that shows scallop and lamb banh cuon (rice crepe rolls) garnished with pomegranate seeds. The dish looks familiar and traditional (other than the seeds) but the filling is a whole new twist.

Decor wise - the Asian laughing cow is spot on something you’d see in Vietnam!


#3

On another note, your Goi Cuon Nem Chua appetizer is described as grilled in the menu but yours do not look grilled. Looking at some Yelp photos, the grilled version looks really tasty. This isn’t a common dish. Nem nuong is much more common - the grilled cured pork sausage (think Brodard’s) is common. Nem chua - sour fermented sausages with pork skin - is a common drinking food. But to grill the nem chua is something I like to do at home. When I see nem nuong on menus, I always wish they’d grill the sour pork sausages. Good on this chef.


#4

Temple Club was a revelation, certainly a hallelujah since the Bay Area doesn’t serve Temple Club’s version of Vietnamese food nor Central Vietnam either.

i took Temple Club’s version with a literary grain of salt. it certainly tasted great and the prices were cheap in the beginning. then they moved up after being listed under “New” on Y… i reviewed them before then.

some of the dishes definitely are fusion, not pure Vietnamese ala the Pho with beef brisket.

Ga Nuong La Challah is the best chicken renditon out there, besting “chicken & rice” and the traditonal cantonese 'white cut chicken" eaten in ceremonial banquets usually.

some street versions of Pho have gone from 6 to 8. other dishes have jumped 2-3 $
btw, the area isn’t just quiet, it’s sketchy, a few blocks up it is. would put all valuables out of sight in the evenings.
lunch ok. a vietnamese eatery and a cupcake place didn’t make it here.

recommendations: go for the street versions of pho, avoid fried version of imperial rolls, price has gone up, seafood not tastable, go for the fresh version.

got comped a durian cheesecake 2nd time i went. they recognized me instantly! first time eating durian, tastes like it smells, very rich, excellent cheesecake

call to check if they are open, either y. has it wrong sometimes or they change their hours. 3-4 probably closed.


#5

The Ga Nuong La Chanh is certainly a great deal. $8 for half a (small) chicken plus rice makes for a great lunch. Its well grilled and flavorful.

I’d probably argue that they priced too low at the beginning. When chains with much simpler food and lower overhead are charging as much if not more for a dish, then Temple Club should price their dish at a pricepoint that’s more inline with food with similar quality around that area, for example, Reem’s, with perhaps a rent adjustment.


#6

Too bad I didn’t read the menu carefully and opted for the default, but I’d very much love to try the frog leg version next time.

The flavor was already cooked into the soup, not just from the herbs he added at the end. So it was what he added during the cooking stage. Perhaps I will ask next time when I am there.

Why, do they eat a lot of the Laughing cow cheese over in Vietnam?

I didn’t detect a lot of grilling flavor on the sausage either. But then again I am not the best person to assess Nem Chua. Go try it and tell us what you think!

ETA: The one thing I don’t understsand is, I believe the chef resides in Ho Chi Minh City in the south when he was in Vietnam. What compels him to serve food from Central Vietnam and as he mentioned, a few items from the North?


#7

guessing dearth of Viet eateries offering North and Central versions the major reason.- no competition and foodies wanting to try new accessible eats.


(geoffrey deetz) #8

Hi all,
First off thank you all for sharing our hard work and being so kind! Im so happy you came and are interested in our restaurant. I can of course answer some of these questions if you all dont mind? :-).

I use water celery leaf to garnish the Pho Bo Chua and the common spice that corned beef and Pho has is coriander seeds brewed in the stock. I hope this is what you were tasting.

As for wether I am a Danny Bowien, or a David Thompson were I respect what Mr. Bowien has achieved the difference is that other than my sour beef Pho I’m cooking traditional country cooking from Viet Nam. Im not cooking my twist or fusion here but real preparations of food I ate and lived with for over 16 years in Viet Nam.

Im guessing because some people have not traveled there or lived their they it can seem like a twist or fusion but my goal is to cook the food from Viet Nam as it has been done there for generations without fear of organs, fat and bones as well as funky stuff.

So perhaps more close to David Thompson due to my time living in the country and my passion for authenticity and the culture that I was an honored guest in for so long. But that said I am really about my path in life but Im still honored to be compared to these people.

Now why I cook more central and northern food…well first off almost all the Vietnamese restaurants in the US cook southern food and not really good versions of central or northern food. Yes I think its smart to cook other food but this is not he reason.

The central foods are loved in all areas of Vietnam and there is quite a strong opinion with north and south Vietnamese people about their food such as the northerners dont like southern food as its to sweet and the south doest like the northerners food because its not sweet enough…lol. but more that they are stubbornly proud of their local food and feel its better.

Im starting mostly in the central because its the pure food from Viet Nam without much influence from other close countries. Also my wife is from Hoi An and the food their is special and she cant find it here so hey! why not make her happy right? .

I lived in both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh and had restaurants in both cities. I will though be cooking food from far south near Chau Duc and near Phu Quoc and even Sapa in the mountains of northern VN. I have eatin and cooked all over Viet Nam and their are so many different dishes never sold here that I want to bring forward to the Bay area.

Ah also there are no $8 street bowls here. just $7. and Im sorry my server did not tell you about the Hoi An garlic fish sauce next to your Mi Quang…yes this should be added as you eat as well as crunching your cracker in the mix as well.

Yes Vietnamese love eating laughing cow cheese but its an iconic logo they stole long ago to use to advertise their beef dishes and mostly their beef Pho.

I also will start grilling each separate piece of sliced sour pork to bring out the grill taste better.
again thank you all whop have spread the word and been so kind to help us down here.
Geoffrey


#9

Thank you chef. This is helpful background about you and your food.

For those who are interested, here’s a video I found from Talk Vietnam on Hoi An’s food:

And I think they have episodes that cover food from other regions in Vietnam.


(geoffrey deetz) #10

Your very welcome and thank you.! This might also help see my goals here in Oakland.


#11

After reading your review, I am lamenting the fact that I live on the wrong coast.

Also, I loved your (very Asian) move of saving broth for another day. In my family, it’s not unheard of to get leftover sauce packed up when out at a restaurant and eaten over rice the next day.


#12

What do you do when the ingredients used in Vietnam are not found here?


(geoffrey deetz) #13

Well depending on what that ingredients is. if its major then I wont cook it. There are plenty of other foods all over Viet Nam that I can prepare more closely. if its an herb or something a bit more simple I can find a similar tasting one and replace it along the other herbs or leave it out. What I dont want to do is to create a new flavor thats not inline with what the dish should be. That said I will soon have a monthly dinner where I do modern twists on Vietnamese food but I dont want to feature this in my daily menus.


#14

I am super excited to eat there. Perhaps tonight. I love the Food from Hue and the North!


#15

thanx so much for your input. i have edited my review on y… accordingly. i tried not to add sauces. i try to
eat entrees as they are naturally served. i only add sauces when the server says i should.

it’s true i haven’t visited many of the countries’ cuisines i have reviewed, maybe that will be remedied. maybe not.

$8 street bowl price may be a miscue on my part as i lumped the chicken with the soups. clearly my bad,. you are correct in saying street bowls are $7. i inadvertedly i lumped the 1/2 chicken (8) with the soups.

fyi, your eatery is probably the first vietnamese one that doesn’t dump dishes and disappear until checkout time.
service and food extraordinary. 5 stars in my book!


#16

Most Vietnamese places in the Bay Area are pho, com tam, banh mi places targeting the Vietnamese community. I don’t think those are the types of food that traditionally have servers checking in on the diners and the diners know what they are doing anyway. There’s always Slanted Door and Khai but that’s a totally different type of restaurant altogether.


#17

so true for the mainstream pho eatery, northern viet eateries in san jose and oaktown viet eateries serving bun rieu
have given me “cues” on viet fare.


#18

#19

Good thing the mi quang is not coming off the menu.

And this:
'It’s certainly true there’s an inherently unfair power dynamic at work here. Many of Oakland’s Vietnamese restaurants are run by immigrants and refugees — people who arrive without the resources, language skills, and established connections to open a daring restaurant like The Temple Club. With survival as a priority, they turn to proven sellers like pho and banh mi. We should continue to support them, but given Deetz’s clear reverence for the cuisine and culture, we can simultaneously celebrate The Temple Club, too. ’

Indeed, Ms Bitker.


#20