Edmonton Restaurant Review: Hoang Long Casual Fare

My vermicelli bowl from lunch. This is the only photo I took. I don't know why I didn't take more pictures that day...

My vermicelli bowl from lunch. This is the only photo I took. I don’t know why I didn’t take more pictures that day…

Hoang Long has had many incarnations in Edmonton over the years. One was the massive, can’t miss, bright yellow flagship restaurant that was situated along 170 Street and 100 Avenue. I’d only been there once before they closed that location, but it certainly had a more traditional Asian feel to it with the rattan chairs and the bamboo decor. Their other establishment, Hoang Long Noodle House, opened in West Edmonton Mall right next to the interior doors to T&T Supermarket. Catering to the many customers that find themselves hungry after a long day of shopping, it’s meant for a quick meal. The newest addition to the Hoang Long family takes fast to a new level. Created with an almost cafeteria-like idea in mind, it was nothing like I imagined it was going to be.

I, in no way, am disappointed with what I saw though. I’m just surprised that this is the way they decided to go. However, their decision makes sense when you take into account where Hoang Long Casual Fare (@HoangLongcf) is situated as well as the restaurant’s full name. Located in one of the commercial spaces at the bottom of the Mayfair Village building on 109 Street south of Jasper Avenue, the establishment is a looker that caters to the business crowd. With high ceilings, modern furniture and light, airy colours, aesthetically, it’s quite pleasing to the eye. It’s comfortable, clean and convenient, too. They have an open kitchen where they’ll make your meals for you as soon as you order and they also have prepackaged foods such as salad rolls. The concept is that you order and pay at the till and then receive one of those notifiers that buzz when your food is ready, letting you know it’s time to pick up from the counter. You have the option to stay and eat there or take your food to go.

The vermicelli bowl lunch menu.

The vermicelli bowl lunch menu.

My friends and I made our way there from work over lunch hour about a couple months ago. Craving vermicelli bowls, I was excited to try out their new venue. We went later in the afternoon, so it wasn’t that busy. After deciding what each of us wanted, our food was ready within minutes. Delighting in the fact that it was a relatively warm day, we found ourselves a spot on their small patio (Yeah! They have one!). While the view isn’t of anything spectacular and it was slightly overcast that day, it’s still good to know that there’s the option to soak in some sun there. If the weather isn’t cooperating, the large windows let plenty of light into the interior, so don’t fret.

The vermicelli bowls were really tasty. The grilled beef that accompanied my noodles was delicious. Cooked in soy sauce, lemongrass, garlic and sugar, it had that unmistakable flavour. I also very much liked the texture of the beef as it had some bite, but was still pretty tender. They also give you an ample serving of fish sauce for the noodles – important so that everything is well coated and adds to the overall profile of the dish. The spring rolls, which I chose as my second topping were fried perfectly, so that the outside stayed nicely crisp even until the end of my meal. My bowl completely satisfied my craving for their Vietnamese and Thai food.

While I didn’t have one, they also had an enticing dessert case filled with individual cakes and macarons that are made in-house. My friend took a piece of chocolate mousse cake to go and she said it was alright. I’ll have to see for myself sometime as I know taste can be selective and dependent on the person, but I’m glad for the additional opinion.

Regardless, I would certainly recommend Hoang Long for their classic menu items and so do the readers of The Tomato. The establishment was voted into the No. 46 spot on the magazine’s list of 100 best eats and drinks in the city for 2014 and they rarely, if ever, steer people wrong when it comes to food! Cited on the list as a favourite is the restaurant’s lamb curry dish, so next time I’m there I’ll have to give that a go. And, being that it’s so close to the office, I can see this becoming a regular hangout either for lunch or even after work.

One quick thing to note is that, although Hoang Long Casual Fare is similar to a fast food joint during the day, they do offer full service dining during supper hours. If it’s anything like their original restaurant, I’m sure they’ll offer a great dinner experience for their patrons.

For a more in-depth look at the establishment’s involvement in the community and its efforts towards sustainability visit The Local Good to read my profile of Hoang Long Casual Fare.

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Edmonton Restaurant Review: Tropika Malaysian & Thai Cuisine (West)

About two weeks ago, my friend Ashley and I braved the cold weather on the way to West Edmonton Mall to stop at Tropika Malaysian & Thai Cuisine for dinner. I’ve been going to the 149 Street and Stony Plain Road location ever since it opened. It’s a favourite of my family’s and, therefore, we eat there frequently.

Ashley and I selected the restaurant for the evening because it is one of the establishments listed on The Tomato’s 2013 list of the top 100 eats and drinks in Edmonton, coming in at number 36. While we’ve gone separately before, we had never been there as a duo, and as it is on the list we’ve currently decided to tackle, we thought it would be a great opportunity to enjoy a supper together.

The food is consistently good and the service is impeccable (the servers make sure to refill your glass of water even when it’s still half full and they come by to clear away things like cleaned off satay sticks, so your table stays clutter free), which is why it holds an 86% positivity rating on Urbanspoon.

Some of my favourites - pad Thai, sambal bunchies and Tropika homestyle chicken - amazing food, plenty to go around!

Some of my favourites – pad Thai, sambal bunchies and Tropika homestyle chicken – amazing food, plenty to go around!

The menu at Tropika is extensive, but my parents and I have narrowed down our favourite dishes to satays (beef and lamb) with peanut sauce, Indonesian spring rolls, roti canai (Malay bread), pad Thai, sambal bunchies, Tropika home style chicken, stir-fried eggplant with chicken in Thai’s bean sauce and sayur lemak hot pot (vegetables in coconut milk).

What I love about going there for a meal (really any Asian restaurant is like this) is that it brings individuals together by allowing you to linger, converse comfortably and encourages sharing. The dishes served are meant to be split between everyone at the table, allowing you to try several items as opposed to limiting yourself to merely one or two things.

On this particular occasion, we did only end up ordering a couple of plates as it was just the two of us. Unfortunately, we did not order the sambal bunchies that were specifically singled out on the Tomato’s list. We attempted to have it made without the prawns since Ashley is allergic, but unlike the traditional sambal sauce made simply out of chili peppers, Tropika’s sauce is made using shrimp paste as well, so there was no getting around that for her. However, I can still vouch for those who voted to have it added to the Tomato’s top 100. Sambal bunchies, a mix of fried green beans, tomatoes, prawns and sambal sauce, is addictive because of the spicy flavours of the sauce mixed with the acidity from the tomato and the nice crunch of the beans.

I especially like to have the sambal bunchies with their pad Thai, which we did order this time. Again, the prawns were cooked and placed in a side dish. The stir fried rice noodles are cooked with chicken, fried tofu and egg in a Thai style sauce, topped with crushed peanuts and served with bean sprouts, lettuce and a slice of fresh lime on the side. The taste of the pad Thai is so good that sometimes my family orders two plates because one isn’t enough to go around. This evening, it was no different. One plate was plenty for the both of us, but we each probably could have eaten a whole order on our own if we wanted to indulge. Instead, we ordered two Indonesian spring rolls to complement our pad Thai.

My plate that evening out with Ashley - pad Thai and an Indonesian spring roll - so delicious!

My plate that evening out with Ashley – pad Thai and an Indonesian spring roll – so delicious!

The spring rolls are a good size, made with pan-fried chicken, Chinese mushroom and shredded jicama inside a crisp flour shell that is coated with peanuts. It comes with a side of chili sauce for dipping. I was happy to introduce this scrumptious appetizer to Ashley, and I’m pretty sure she really liked it as she told me, “I could have 20 of these. Well, I can definitely have at least 2.” When someone has eyes bigger than his or her stomach when it comes to their appetite, you know you’re on the right track.

As long as Tropika continues to serve up interesting dishes with layers of contrasting yet complementing flavours, I will continue to support the restaurant, and I’m certain that, if you try it, you will find some new menu items to call favourites as well.

Should you be unable to make it to a physical location, you can still treat yourself by having them deliver (free within a 6 km radius from their south side or west end locations and only $4 outside of those areas). Or, if you happen to be in a rush and want to get takeout on the way, you can save 10% on all orders over $30.

Have you been to Tropika before? What’s your go to dish?

Speed Dating: An 8-Minute Numbers Game?

I’m 28 years old and currently single. The majority of my friends are coupled, engaged, married or starting families. They don’t know anyone they can set me up with and I work in an office that is primarily filled with women or people who are quite a bit older than me. I’ve never been the type of person who frequents the bar to meet people and that’s not changing anytime soon. What’s a girl to do?

I’ve tried online dating like so many others are inclined to do nowadays, but it has never really worked for me. So, when my friend, who has also tried the online thing, asked if I would be willing to go speed dating with her, I thought now was as good a time as any to mix it up. Life isn’t throwing guys my way through the usual means anyway, so why not give it a shot, right?

We did a little bit of research and saw that events through Fastlife.ca catered to specific themes (university educated, travel lovers, professionals, tall men, etc.) and decided that we would wait to see if we could find a deal through a discount voucher site (another friend of mine had done that before). The usual cost of the majority of their events is $59.99, which is a hefty price when you’re not really sure that it’s going to lead to anything; if we could save some money, it would help to convince us it was a good idea. Plus, if we had a good time, the extra cash could be put towards going to another date night in the future. Eventually we lucked out and found ourselves a coupon through Groupon (my go to website). The stars were aligned; we were on our way to potentially meeting some new people, new guys.

The Venue - L1 Lounge at WEM. We took up the left side.

The Venue – L1 Lounge at WEM. We took up the left side.

Arriving a bit before the 7:30 pm start time, we entered L1 Lounge at West Edmonton Mall and had absolutely no idea what to do. The host for the evening hadn’t arrived, so we popped back out and waited a bit before returning. When we came back about 10 minutes later, the hostess was there and greeted us, letting us know where everyone would be seated later on and invited us to grab a drink at the bar to unwind until all participants showed up.

My friend and I were the first ones there, so we each ordered a beverage and perched ourselves on a couple stools, watching as various men and women trickled in. I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t admit we were sizing people up a little bit. After all, the girls were our competition and the guys were the reason why we were there.

The whole thing didn’t even begin until about eight o’clock, but it was a whirlwind of 12 mini dates. While it was a good time and it breezed by (before I knew it, it was over and it was already 10 pm), it was also a tad draining. Thankfully, though, it wasn’t like the movies tend to depict it.

I will say that some of the “dates” were great – conversation flowed well or I could feel an immediate connection – and others were a bit strained or awkward, feeling as if the eight minutes dragged. If you think about it, there is a lot riding on that first impression. Based on the experience of my friend and I, here are some tips for the guys: never talk about your ex, refrain from getting too touchy-feely, avoid rehearsing what you’re going to say to us, and don’t steer the whole conversation. The time we spend together, although short, should feel organic. Many of the guys were very nice, some a bit shy, a couple were somewhat arrogant, lots were engineers, all of them were just hoping, like we were, to meet someone great. If we liked them, we were supposed to check off their name on our cards. The host would go through them afterwards to figure out our matches and then notify us.

Ultimately, we ended up making a new girlfriend who is relatively new to the city, and, naturally, we invited her to join us for dessert after the event closed up shop and all the speed daters dispersed. We chatted about how it all went as girls are apt to do and came to the realization that there are plenty of us in the same boat. All of the ladies looked like great catches. We’re not sure why it’s so hard to find someone we can connect with, but we’re willing to take our time to find the right person. Of course, that doesn’t mean we can’t have some fun in the meantime. One friend pondered why they didn’t make it larger where would we meet twenty people instead of a dozen, but my response to that was that it’s so overwhelming. We already had a hard enough time recalling all the conversations we had that night and differentiating the guys from one another after we left, let alone adding another eight people to the mix.

Our treat for the evening. The dessert trio at Moxie's!

Our treat for the evening. The dessert trio at Moxie’s!

However, I posed this question to my friends over our dessert: despite some complaints about some of the guys and the event itself, would you ever go speed dating again? At first it was a resounding “no” from both of my friends, but slowly one changed her mind. Initially, I said I might choose to take part once more, but after being told we would receive our mutual matches the following day and not actually hearing anything for three days, I thought the service could have been better.

In the end, I received two matches, but after such a delay to find out who they were, I think many of us already forgot who we had spoken to. The details melded together and it became a big blur, at least for me. The postponed notice of our matches took away from the momentum of the initial contact, and we started to think maybe we didn’t get any matches at all. I was the one who decided to reach out to my matches first (it’s time for the ladies to take charge), but I feel that with e-mail as the only point of contact, it becomes too easy for someone to disregard the matches and move on without attempting to see where an additional meeting could lead. In my case, one of my matches told me he doesn’t like to go out with more than one person at a time, and since he already had plans to meet someone else from the same event, he wasn’t planning to see me. I don’t know what you think about that, but my first thought was, “this is the first time you’re going out with this other person since the event. Based on an eight minute conversation, you’re putting all your eggs in one basket and missing out on other opportunities.” But, really, it’s his loss, not mine. I went into this without any major expectations, had a fun night, checked off guys that aren’t usually my “type” (not that I have one), but had good conversation with, and just left it at that. I figured the worst that could happen is that they didn’t feel the same. I had no attachments yet, so I wouldn’t be broken up over the outcome.

Would I recommend going to something like this with a friend or two? It’s a tough call. If you like the idea of having a friend there for support and to talk to about the whole ordeal afterwards, then, yes, I’d say bring someone along. But, if you can be the jealous type, I’d tell you that it might be best to go on your own. It would be terrible if you were excited about someone you met, but your friend was matched instead, or perhaps if you both received the same matches, but it didn’t work out for one of you. It’s really a judgement call. Although, no matter what, you have to take it all in stride. You can’t invest everything in this one instance because life doesn’t always go the way you expect it to. I enjoyed going with my friend as the discussion alone was worth it.

The index page of FastLife.ca

The index page of FastLife.ca

With regards to the event coordination, I would say that, for the regular cost of $60, not having a drink included is unfortunate; also nacho chips with no toppings and just sides of salsa and sour cream were included, but not placed out until the very end. They weren’t enticing enough to keep participants there. In fact, in my opinion, FastLife was a bit cheap considering the amount of money each person spent on the evening. Know that if you decide to attend one of these events, there might be extra costs associated. I may try this avenue again because I wouldn’t mind seeing what kind of guys show up at the other themed evenings. However, I would definitely seek out another deal or wait for FastLife to offer one (they do on occasion) as I think it’s too expensive to go for full price.

At the end of the day, dating nowadays seems like it’s a numbers game. You have to put yourself out there if you want to find someone you’re willing to start a relationship with. Some people are lucky to find their other half early in life and for others it takes a little more time. If anything, going to events like this, I might make a new circle of friends and I’m always up for that.

If you’re considering speed dating, remember that it’s all in good fun. You have to go in with an open mind and just be ready to take a chance. Hopefully, you’ll have a fun time, maybe make a friend or two and come out of it with some good stories to tell.