Sunday, April 21, 2013

Cafe de Tropika - Edmonton, AB

I remember my first visit to Hong Kong vividly although it was over five years ago. I was so amazed by the sheer number of people, and by the pace of life. It seemed everyone was in a hurry no matter what they were doing, and restaurant service reflected that. There was no time for slow waiters or slow anything. But even though food came out fast, it sure was delicious. Cafe de Coral is one of the largest fast food brands in Hong Kong. My first visit overwhelmed me. There were over 100 menu items, and servers were preparing food furiously in an assembly line. Even though it was years ago, I remember one item that I ordered over and over again: the pork chop rice. It came out steaming hot, with tomato sauce seasoned perfectly and pork chop with just the right amount of fat. All the rest of the menu items were like that as well: big on flavor but easy and quick to prepare.

Needless to say, Chinese food in Edmonton can't compare with food in Hong Kong, even fast food. But Cafe de Tropika is banking that people will come for the kind of food that is served in those types of fast-food Hong Kong joints, the type of food that's better eaten as a snack or informal meal than a fancy dinner. If you've been to T-Pot in Calgary, it's a similar concept. Lots of noodles, rice, and snack-type food. Cafe de Tropika is located on the south side, along Calgary Trail. When we arrived around 5:00, the restaurant had few eaters but rapidly filled up during our stay. The interior was clean and simple, with neutral tables and chairs with a few pops of red color. It was a nice change from the usual less-than-pristine atmosphere you'd likely find in other Chinatown joints. We were quickly greeted and seated by a pleasant lady who spoke both Cantonese and English. Most menu items were under $20, with a lot of simple dishes like won ton mein and sandwiches. We settled on baked seafood rice ($13), noodles with BBQ duck ($9) and rice noodle deep fried Chinese donut ($4). In true Hong Kong fashion, the dishes came in whatever order they were prepared in. This may be a bit problematic for diners who are used to waiting for each person to receive their meal before diving in, but as we were sharing everything it wasn't an issue.
First to the table was the noodles with BBQ duck. The noodles were the standard mein served with any other soup noodle, but had good springy texture. The duck was tasty but nothing you couldn't get at T&T.
Deep Fried Chinese Donut
Soon after came the rice noodle deep fried Chinese donut. This "donut" is not what you would find at Tim Hortons; it has more of a savory flavor, similar to a fritter, and is often eaten with congee. I was disappointed to see that it was served with just sweetened soy sauce as opposed to the peanut and hoisin sauces that it usually comes with. Without stronger sauces to complement the rolls, I could more easily taste the grease of the dish. The Chinese donut was a little too dense and oil-soaked for my liking.
Our last dish was the baked seafood rice, which is one of my companion's favorites. I'd never tried it before, so I wasn't sure what to expect. What came out was a steaming hot casserole-type dish with cheese baked on top. Seafood such as clams, shrimps, and scallops in a white sauce lay on top of a bed of egg fried rice. I thought this dish was pretty average, although I have no previous experience to compare to. The sauce was heavy and a little too greasy for me.

Overall, Cafe de Tropika offers up standard Hong Kong fare that is fairly decent by Edmonton standards. Because the restaurant is clean and bright, and the servers friendly and helpful, I think they have a good future ahead of them in their south side location especially with the lack of competition. However, the portion sizes were small and the menu was full of starch options, so I wouldn't recommend Cafe de Tropika for a hearty, healthy, or balanced meal.

Top Pick of the Night: Nothing stands out

3/5 Erics

 Cafe de Tropika on Urbanspoon

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