My friend Justin and I were originally going to a food truck festival in Keansburg today. Because of how hot and humid it was, we then decided to go to an actual restaurant instead. Somewhere. Anywhere. We ended up in Red Bank and felt like Chinese. Having passed Temple many times and heard decent reviews, we figured we would give it a try. I will add that the full name of this restaurant includes the phrase “Gourmet Chinese Food”. I want you to keep that in mind as you look at the pictures and read the descriptions below. This “gourmet” approach is apparent as soon as you read the menu, and see the prices. There is Duck l’Orange, Grand Marnier Prawns, and Filet Mignon Egg Rolls. They do offer Americanized classics such as chicken and broccoli, but even the menu description tells you this is better than any other version you have had.
Due to the heat, I could have really used an ice-cold beer. They do have a full bar when you walk in, but a sign read “Liquor License Pending”. Did they lose it and were trying to get it back, or was there never a bar at all? Either way, it was a tease and a bit disappointing. But that issue will not affect the final score—I’ll leave their food to do that.
We started out with pork dumplings. Given the option to have steamed or pan-seared, we went with the latter. These were actually quite good, and the highlight of the meal. They were crispy on the bottom and soft and chewy on top. The dough was homemade and the filling was flavorful without being too salty. Hey, we were off to a good start. Justin even said they may have been the best dumplings he’d had. Unfortunately, that was the high water mark of this experience.
I was really intrigued by a dish called Crispy Peppercorn Chicken. I will present you with the menu description: “tender white meat chicken lightly dusted and quick-fried tossed in a finely chopped hot pepper relish”. I have bolded such words for a reason, because as you can see in the picture below, that chicken was battered and deep-fried, not lightly dusted and quick-fried. When I think of that second phrase, I imagine pan or stir-fry. I was also envisioning a peppercorn crust or coating since it said “dusted”. Also, there were no peppercorns anywhere to be seen, and the relish described was nothing more than slices and bits of raw jalapeno peppers.
Misnomers aside, I cannot say I was excited to see a mountain of deep-fried chunks of chicken in front of me, garnished with two tiny strawberry slices (not entirely visible in the picture), there for no apparent reason. They weren’t even ripe. I cannot complain about the portion size, but the chunks were so large it was nearly impossible to eat with chopsticks. It also became heavy halfway through, and I could not finish it. The chicken was adequately cooked but with no spice to this supposedly spicy dish, and everything else falsely advertised, I was sorely disappointed.
Justin had the Sesame Shrimp. Again, portion size was through the roof. At least his looked more appetizing than mine. The shrimp were indeed jumbo. Alas, he encountered the same exact problem here: a deep-fried mountain. Just because it was surrounded by broccoli florets does not make it any more appetizing. The sauce drizzled over the top did a lot to break up the dry monotony of this dish. But it was not enough to elevate it. I traded a few of my gourmet chicken nuggets for one of his shrimp. He did not like mine, while I still thought his was better than what I had. There was a bit more flavor and pop. They say you have to know what to order in certain restaurants. Perhaps we just managed to land two duds here, but based on this not-so-cheap meal, I wonder.
The only thing I will give them is nothing was greasy. Not at all. But maybe we should have bitten the bullet and gone to the food truck festival. I would have taken a hot dog sitting in three-year-old dirty water as opposed to navigating through this deep-fried extravaganza. The dumplings saved this place, and our meals were not horrible. But do you want to go to a restaurant for something merely edible? Temple gets 2.5 out of 5 stars from me, which is being kind. They should either drop the Gourmet from their name or ditch the deep-fryer. No reason to give them a second try. I’d rather order takeout from my local greasy spoon.
Temple Gourmet Chinese Food is located at 91 Broad Street in Red Bank, NJ.