Motivated by previous Chowhound posts and Tida's high praise, Ciaohound wife, Ciaohound sister from Cincinnati and I headed over to Thai Temple last Sunday.
Armed with our Chowhound identification papers (photocopies of Chowhound posts), we arrived at the Temple at 10:45 AM. I expected a huge Church and large food area, and was I ever surprised.
The Temple is house-sized and the area on the side and in the rear quite small. The food is served cafeteria-style along the rear of the property.
After almost giving our money as an incense donation we were pointed to the rear corner of the backyard to convert our dollars into food tokens. We then separated and divided into the food lines. Ann to choose beverages from Thai Iced Tea, iced coffe, sodas, and bottled water. Marilyn jumped into the hot food line and I after the Beef Noodle Soup.
There are portable tables with real trees and chairs, as well as more communal picnic-style tables and chairs in the backyard. During the day of feasting, we were treated to a traditional parade and Thai dancing.
The food line begins with the salads, including the Green Papaya salad (Sum Tam ?). Shredded green papaya, cabbage, etc. was being made fresh to order and we decided to pass and come back later. Big mistake, becuase an hour later the line was all the way out to the street and we never got any!!
Marilyn got the 3-dish combination, which included Pad Thai, Cashew chicken, and chicken curry with sticky rice. The Pad Thai had an orange hue, perhaps from some tamarind paste we thought. No peanuts or limes either. Sort of a plain, but tasty version, nonetheless.
I ordered the large bowl of Beef Noodle soup, with the medium sized rice noodles. They had smaller vermicelli sized and larger fun (as in chow fun) noodles, but the server and I agreed that the medium spaghetti sized were the best. The soup contained sliced beef, beef balls, tripe, vegetables, etc. They had fish sauce and other condiments. I went for the red chili sauce, fish sauce, dried red pepper and jalapenos or thai grene chilis in vinegar. Even though I drained the chilis the residual vinegar gave the broth a nice tangy kick. Every bit as good as the Vietnamese-style Pho I just had tonight from Sugar Bowl Bakery.
We shared the cold spring rolls and pot stickers. The pot stickers were smaller than the Chinese version and were served with soy-based sauce.
The Spring Rolls were made with fresh wrappings with just enough chew, filled with delicious crunchy fresh vegetables and shrimp. Served with a sweet dipping sauce. Later, Arlene was suspicious but kept going back for more of the sweet, tangy sauce.
Ann picked out a generous leg/thigh fried chicken combination. Without the Americanized, crispy coated batter, the skin was sweet and juicy, and the taste of the chicken shone through. We detected a subtle flavor that we couldn't identify. A secret spice or herb??
After we dug in, 2 more Chowhounds, Ben Yee and Arlene Tsang joined us. After getting their bearings, Ben went with the Beef Noodle Soup and Arlene with a large plate of Pad Thai noodles. Arlene and Ben then got a plate of fresh, sweet mangoes with sticky rice and a sweetened wild rice (possibly with taro ?) that was excellent. Also a sweetened crepe-like folded pancacke called Rothi. We broke it into pieces and shared it. I wasn't sure if it was a dessert or a bread, due to its sweetness, but it was very tasty.
There are many packaged vegetable dishes; three or four Thai curries, rices, pad thai, vegetable dishes, chicken with lemongrass, and sweet things interspersed and pre-packaged in the food lines. People try to cut in front of you as each food item is supposed to have their own line; but it ends up on the honor system.
Arlene was taking digital pictures of the food, so maybe she'll be able to post some of them online. My sister said that the food was so good, fresh and delicious, that if they had such a place in Cincinnati, her and her family would be there every Sunday trying different dishes.
We were really too full to appreciate desserts. After I waited 45 minutes in line (the lines increase dramatically between 11:00 - 12:30) we got an order of Kanom Krog which were fried half-moons of a coconut milk custard with green onions. They then put the two halves on top of each other. We were so anxious to try them, they practically burned our mouths. Perhaps they were just TOO hot, and they weren't very popular. The other dessert was a cocunut flake and taro combo, fried into patties and were too greasy and were not well liked. The desserts went home with my sister, we just were on overfill and not a receptive audience.
We got back in line at about 12:30 to get an order of Pad Thai to take home to my niece and my sister said she got the last order practically. At 12:00 the food line was out into the Russell Street and by 1:00 most of the food was going or gone.
Afterwards, we walked two blocks to Berkeley Bowl market. We commented that it was like Safeway with a larger produce and fruit section. We were NOT bowled over by the Berkeley Bowl and we didn't buy anything. The prices were attractive, but the quality of the fruit/produce was not overwhelming and not worth the long wait in line. We passed, but I'll give it a third try when it is not as busy. All the peaches, cantaloupes, and other fruit I smelled had no scent and was very hard and unripe. However, it was once again jammed so there must be something I keep missing.
As we left, we all agreed to meet at the Thai Temple again to sample more wonderful, authentic Thai food.