Quality Chinese dishes, club music included
They are fabulized late-night palaces that have held New Englanders in thrall for generations, with pages and pages of Chinese dishes, bowls of Polynesian drinks, over-the-top design, all on as massive a scale as the proprietor (and diner) can manage. Harvard Square’s Hong Kong, Saugus’s Kowloon, Chinatown’s Chau Chau City. (Others have given us reverent pause with their passing.) These aging grande-dames still have their charms. But one, as if rejuvenated by some forbidden blue tiki-drink, still struts with sex appeal after 50 years in business. The proud, original owners, the Taw family, are still in charge.
The shameless and overblown Golden Temple in Brookline could make you laugh. Instead, every Friday and Saturday, it makes you dance. The lounge area is a conflation of Indiana Jones and Skylab. Here, an off-white faux geo-dome soars over the dance floor, throbbing with inset circles of colored light. On weekends, this space is packed with young, well-dressed Asian women, and their money-manager admirers, sipping esoteric martinis, Polynesian drinks, and a range of Red Bull concoctions. The clubbers also snack on Chinese appetizers as they try to chat over the odd, bouncy mix of Pitbull and C+C Music Factory.
Across the way, past smartly dressed greeters, the newish dining rooms are an organized maze of decor, cryptic symbols, aerial geometry, and a cupola with 13 backlit portals - all colored a warm straw yellow. Here patrons eat in tidy booths, in relative calm. And there is plenty on the menu. Some 420 items purport to be modern and healthy - as Golden Temple’s aggressive URL announces: it’s “healthyfreshfood.com.’’
Low expectations are pleasantly surpassed. The vegetable in green tea buckwheat vegetable soup ($5.95) turns out to be sai-yun choi (a flavorful cress-like plant). The restorative broth is indeed green, and fortified with meaty black mushrooms. Szechuan eggplant with pork ($8.65) arrives tender, firm, and marvelously ungreasy. Its scallions are slightly crunchy, retaining their taste and aroma; roughly ground pork is a superior quality. A light, savory sauce holds the whole dish together beautifully. The restaurant claims that all the pork, chicken, beef, and steak (they distinguish) are organic; the taste and texture are exceptional.
Like most wild weekend party girls, Golden Temple takes it easy all week. Low, sensible music plays, and an older crowd of Brookline’s more reserved residents keep the dining rooms, at most, half-full. It’s a pleasant, relaxing after-work meal. The service is meticulous. The weekday bar becomes a place for a quiet, exotic drink. The adjacent dance floor sits empty, under those pulsing lights, like a spaceship awaiting Friday’s launch.
Management claims to shun MSG and high-fructose corn syrup. The kitchen uses only natural sea salt, tries for local produce, olive oil for the wok, canola oil to fry. This is a neat trick, since olive and canola oil will smoke at a lower temperature than other oils, and Chinese cooking typically requires very high heat. Mostly it works well. Sometimes it doesn’t, as with fish dishes like the catfish Hunan style ($13.95), where the breading and fish become too heavy.
Our waiter, a ceremonious gentleman named Bing, reports that his favorite dish is General Gau’s chicken ($12.95). I order it, expecting a greasy cliché. Here, truly tender, spicy morsels of chicken are coated with a refined version of the familiar tangy brown sauce. The taste is clean, delightful. It seems somehow baked on, but not at all dry. It may be the best version of this dish I’ve had in Boston. Scallion pancakes ($5.95) have the same light, greaseless charm.
For those seeking intense spice, the heat is sometimes toned down for the weeknight crowd. Drinks are not. Mai tais and giant scorpion bowl brandy drinks pack a punch. By the third one, I’m off the dance floor, with a heavenly plate of spicy ginger clams ($17.95), listening to my favorite Pitbull song. Again.
Ike DeLorenzo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.