Temple pays homage to the gods of food and fashion—and the ambiance, at least, is heavenly
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THEY CAN BURN all the incense they want outside Temple’s front door, but 12th Street and Harmon Place will never be Asia. Most of the waitresses in red kimonos will be Caucasian. There won’t be any saffron-robed monks kneeling beside the gold Buddha—or sipping $12 martinis. But chef/owner Thom Pham isn’t trying to replicate his birthplace, Vietnam, or any other place. As with Azia, his sexy Eat Street restaurant, which fuses cranberry with curry and walleye with wasabi, Pham uses elements of East and West to stage an ambient fantasy.
On a recent Saturday night, my party stood before two unmarked doors in the Temple lobby: lounge or dining room? We chose the latter. One of the colossal gates swung open to reveal our hostess, gal-about-town Alexis McKinnis. (We recognized the doe-eyed brunette from her dishy Girl Friday blog and Vita.mn sex column.)
The entire room glowed red: the lights, the candles, the kimonos, the koi swimming in the enormous, dimly lit fish tank. A holdover from the former occupant, a Caribbean restaurant called Tiburon, the tank smartly divides the space in a way that allows the patrons’ energy from each side to transfer to the other.
In one corner, as a table of boisterous men told stories that involved lots of gesticulating, a flashy flaming cocktail added an element of danger. The table adjacent to ours was empty, anticipating its guests with two place settings and a bouquet of long-stemmed roses. Across the room, a middle-age bottle blonde with a sizable implant job shared a booth with a man wearing sunglasses who bore a resemblance to Tony Soprano. Seekers of all sorts made the pilgrimage that night: gay partiers, banal romantics, and, even, it seemed, the New Jersey mafia.