Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Cafe de Tropika, Edmonton AB - tasty Hong Kong style cafe in south Edmonton

Rating: Service 7/10, Food 7/10
We came here with high hopes – well, at least one of our fellow foodies did as she was craving the little treats that one can find in a Hong Kong style café. What makes it a HK style café, versus the cafes we have here? Well, for one, there’s the Hong Kong style milk tea – brewed super strong and served with a healthy dollop of condensed milk – served hot or cold, it packs a flavorful punch. Also, from her travels (and a few other foodies treks), HK style cafes offer a plethora of menu items designed to satisfy anything you might crave (foodwise folks) lol! So when we heard that Café de Tropika opened recently in the south end of town and was run by the owners of Tropika, we headed over on a Saturday morning to check things out. And eat :)
Simple lines and splashes of color give this new space a fresh, bright and clean look. We were quickly seated as we had luckily just missed the start of the lunch rush. We waded into the extensive (if poorly translated and vague English) menu and everyone ordered either something they craved or something random.

the DRINKs
One of measuring sticks of a good HK style café is its HK style tea. In HK, there are some cafes that only sell the tea because they are so good at what they do. In North America, we have our hot cuppa java, in HK style cafes, its HK style tea!  So everyone orders up either a hot version, +/- coffee (Western influence here)…

Or an iced version. I went with the iced version as this version is usually a bit trickier to make – it must be more concentrated that the hot version, cooled down prior to service and it has to account for the fact all the icecubes added to the cup dilutes out the final beverage. The tea, while taste, is average. There was a combination of too much ice and it wasn’t concentrated enough to begin with (needed more steeping time or more tea leaves!) – enough to give it its characteristic color, but not the depth of flavor we were looking for.

the FOOD
We ordered a random selection... if we ordered everything off their menu – eating that much food would be insane. First up was the stir fried rice noodles with beef or “gone chow gnow hoa”. The portion size was a bit small for the price, but since we ordered plenty of dishes, it wasn’t a big deal. Aromatic with ginger, sliced tender beef, soft rice noodles and a good handful of bean sprouts, while moderately greasy (expected), it could have been improved with a bit more time in the wok or a higher cooking temperature to give the dish a bit more “wok hay” – the caramelization process that gives this dish its characteristic flavor that’s so much more than the sum of noodles, beef, onions, bean sprouts, soy sauce, ginger and oil.

Next up was the Stir fried Shanghai noodles – this item was run of the mill, with the thick noodles stirfried in a bit of oyster sauce, a scattering of sliced Chinese mushrooms, garlic, ginger, green onions and a few slivers of white meat – probably pork or chicken (didn’t taste one and forgot to ask)

I was super excited to have one of my favs –thick toast: a thick Texas style toast simply brushed with melted butter and topped with a generous drizzle of condensed milk. Some places even bake their own sweet bread... unfortunately, all I received was 2 slices of plain regular white toast with crusts removed, a hint of margarine and barely any condensed milk to speak of… served as a sandwich?! The bastardization of this simple simple item was a bit shocking to say the least. Boo!

We also had the baked pork chops normally served on rice, but we subbed out for spaghetti as my girlfriend recalled having the same named dish at cafes in HK. The pork cutlet was breaded and deep fried – some parts were crisp, others soggy. It was placed on plain spaghetti and topped with a tomato sauce. Team HB was hoping for the simple tomato sauce flavor characteristic of all HK style cafes in well, Hong Kong – and while Café de Tropika’s was a basic tomato sauce, there was a herb added to it that skewed the flavor profile sideways.

We also tried some Chinese donuts – tricky to make as the yeast starters from Hong Kong are finicky to work with in Canada with our differences in temperature and humidity. I haven’t had a really decent fresh one in years. So I wasn’t surprised when this one failed to impress. Doubled fried, the exterior was crispy, but instead of a nice semi-chewy tender interior… it practically oozed out oil.

The Rice wrapper Chinese donut roll fared a little better, only in that their freshly steamed rice noodle wrapper was freshly made (if a bit thick) and concealed the super overfried greasy donut within.

Next out was the Wonton soup with shrimp wontons. The wonton noodles were run of the mill and cooked to al dente. The shrimp wontons had so much MSG added to them, it actually became an overwhelming unpleasant flavor. Fresh shrimp is flavorful enough to stand on its own without so much MSG!To top things off – the soup base was so over salted noone could eat more than a bite. One a second visit here, the soup base had a much lower sodium content, so someone must have accidently dumped in a cup of salt.

We also got an order of Congee with pork and seafood or “Tang zhai jook”, While tasty and smooth, we noticed the kitchen took a shortcut and chose to blenderize the congee rather than slowly cook down rice to a smooth texture, so it lacked the creaminess the slow cooked method produces.

Served with a few fried wonton chips, there was a small amount of seafood/meat in the congee, but traditionally, the congee base is center stage.


the VERDICT
Overall, a good but bumpy start to Edmonton’s only Hong Kong style café in the south (currently).  We did expect better as Tropika has had years of experience running restaurants. Because of the extensive menu (and resulting chaos in kitchen), once the kitchen works out some of their grand opening kinks, this will be a good place to stop by for brunch when you feel like something Chinese, but don’t feel like waking up at the crack of down for dim sum.

Cafe de Tropika
Address 3040 Calgary Trail, Edmonton, AB T6J7C2
Phone 780-440-1382
Hours Open daily for lunch and dinner
Cafe de Tropika on Urbanspoon

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