Chicken with broccoli and Kung Pao chicken, two dishes on the lunch menu at Temple Gourmet Chinese. (Photo by Susan Ericson. Click to enlarge)
By SUSAN ERICSON
Lunchtime seems to be a tough draw for Red Bank’s dine-in restaurants. While customers might find it difficult to get a table in the evening, some eateries do what they can in the form of specials to attract afternoon clients.
We’ve been to this sophisticated contemporary Chinese restaurant for dinner before, and an invitation to lunch here with a group of local business owners who also happen to be food-minded was too good to pass up.
No rookie to the restaurant business, owner Victor Kuo learned at the elbow of his parents, Michael and Corrina Kuo, who own Peking Pavilion in Manalapan, which was at one time in the building on Oakland Street that now houses the Red Bank Charter School.
His plan was and remains to make this “not your typical Chinese restaurant,” manager Jackie Kugelman says, and it shows in the industrial-themed interior of exposed beams and gray walls. To Kuo’s disappointment, there’s a booze-free bar, but the absence of a liquor license is not a problem, says Kugelman. Some customers prefer the BYOB, she says, noting that the nearby Wine Cellar delivers.
As for the food itself, the ingredients are “gourmet and better quality,” Kugelman says, such as the Angus beef used in her favorite dish, the sizzling pepper filet mignon.
With the air outside set to just this side of broil, the Lunch Meet party of six decides not to take advantage of the al fresco tables corralled by pretty flower filled planters out front, but instead take a table indoors.
The lunch menu lists of 17 entrees — traditional dishes such as pepper steak, sweet and sour shrimp and sesame chicken — as well as four “featured” gourmet dishes: Cashew Crunch, Sweet Thai basil with baby eggplant, Tropical Mango, and Basil String beans. Each offer a different style of preparation and comes with a choice of shrimp, chicken, beef, pork, grouper, homemade tofu, or vegetarian to round out the entree. Gluten-free fare is also available.
All come with a choice of white, brown or fried rice. A tossed salad or soup — such as chicken egg corn, wonton or hot-and-sour — start the meal.
A bowl of salad was served family-style, while those ordering soup are treated to full-size bowlfuls. The hot-and-sour soup was a gourmet heat-lover’s treat, filled with enoki and tree ear mushrooms, shredded pork and egg ribbons.
The Kung Pao chicken, with its brightly colored vegetables and seriously hot peppers, was garnished with plenty of chopped cashews. Orders of chicken and broccoli were equally well prepared, though less spicy.
Surprised to find the option of Pad Thai on a decidedly Chinese menu, PieHole lowered its expectations due to the disappointing renditions we have tasted at other restaurants in the area, and decided to give it a try.
Surprise: a small mountain of perfectly cooked rice noodles was laced with flavorful, sauteed chunks of tofu. Bits of egg, fresh crunchy bean sprouts, and plump, juicy shrimp lay under a blanket of chopped peanuts. Perfect in its preparation, this was a shining example of what Pad Thai is all about, full of textural differences and flavors, and absolutely scrumptious.
Temple’s lunch menu is offered from 11:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.