Restaurant review: Utopia Café

A piece of avocado toast with a runny egg on top. florence hwang

A local dining establishment with many delicious options

Last fall, I saw a friend’s Facebook posts of food from the Utopia Café. The desserts looked amazing. I wanted to go and see if it tasted as good as it looked. Because of school, I’ve been too busy to think about going out. Because of COVID-19, I wasn’t able to go out when I had the time. I had promised the Carillon to do a review on the restaurant in January. By the time I actually went, it was March. I texted an old elementary school friend of mine to come along for the experience, and she happily agreed to give it a go.

The weather was nice, so I decided to walk to the café. (I had driven by it many times but never walked there.) I still managed to miss it somehow. It’s located at #102-106 Victoria Avenue East, a block east of Arcola Avenue.

I arrived at noon, right when the café opened. I noticed a guy run out from the café to his parked vehicle. There is the option to order and pick up food. When I entered the restaurant, it was empty. Within five minutes, a couple came in and placed their order. I ordered my food, then took a seat to wait for my friend. By the time we left a couple of hours later, the place was nearly full (within social distancing guidelines, of course).

The café was surprisingly busy on a Sunday afternoon. Tables were set apart to follow safe social distancing regulations. Mind you, it was the first day of spring, so perhaps people were itching to get out and socialize, especially with some restrictions being loosened in light of the pandemic.

In preparation for this adventure, I studied the online menu. It offered an impressive array of primarily Asian-style snack foods and beverages. On the menu were more Western or Canadian foods, such as sandwiches, coffees, teas, cakes, and desserts. The prices were reasonable. But the one thing entirely unique to this café was bingsoo, a shaved ice dessert typically from Asia. When I say “shaved ice,” I’m not referring to Hawaiian-style shaved ice or snow-cones. Snow-cones have larger ice granules than Asian shaved ice, which is more like snow – it’s very fine, light, and fluffy. Plus, Asian shaved ice is usually made from large blocks of ice. Then, flavours and toppings can be added to the shaved ice.

There are fruit options, such as strawberry, mango, blueberry, matcha red bean, milo, and Oreo. I tried matcha red bean and mango while my friend chose strawberry and mango. We were pleasantly surprised with the flavourful combinations. Taking that first bite brought me back to Taiwan when I first tried bingsoo. It was light, fluffy, yet somehow creamy without the heaviness of traditional ice cream. I loved the sliced almonds and mini marshmallows added on top. These toppings added contrasting soft and crunchy textures to this dish, making it more enjoyable. The matcha, red bean, and mango flavours were slightly sweet but not overpowering each other. This combination of these three toppings was complementary. I only ordered a small, but it was pretty filling.

One of my friends who also visited Taiwan said they knew someone who wanted to start a business serving bingsoo in the United States. He talked about them doing research on what machinery was needed, where to buy these specialized types of blocks of ice to use in the machine, and what companies offered the flavouring for this dessert.

The other place I have had amazing bingsoo was at the Chinese Aberdeen Mall in Richmond, B.C. It was in one of the kiosks in the food court. The small booth displayed photos of the different kinds of bingsoo, which was served in plastic bowls. My sister and I took a chance to try it out. It was amazing. Utopia Café came pretty close.

(Side note: If you like this bingsoo but want to branch out and try even more flavours, head to Saskatoon’s Snowy Village. Most of their menu is around this specific dessert. Their servings are pretty big, so you may need to bring a friend along.)

At Utopia Café, I also ordered a savoury dish – the avocado egg toast (and no, I’m not being a stereotypical millennial – I just like avocados!) I wasn’t sure what to expect with this order. The order came with two slices of bread stacked on top of each other, covered in a generous layer of smashed avocado. It was served with a soft sunny-side egg sprinkled with pepper. The runny egg yolk and avocado with the bread were delicious. I hadn’t had anything to eat yet that day, so perhaps that’s why this toast was tasty. I had had avocado toast before, which I enjoyed. Adding that egg added another dimension to the flavour profile and texture.

If avocado and egg aren’t your thing, you can have other toast with sweet options, like Oreo, mango, or peanut banana. I still don’t understand the Asian fascination with milk bread toast. In some other Asian-style cafes I’ve visited, their menus have entire sections dedicated to milk toast options.

My friend enjoyed her bingsoo. She said she had never had anything like it before. The dessert looks like the texture of coconut but doesn’t taste like that at all. She was smart in ordering a latte to warm herself up after eating the shaved ice (although it was the first day of spring, the weather was still a bit chilly). She did enjoy the latte, too.

With the weather warming up, Utopia Café is an option for people looking for a place to try if they want a non-dairy summer treat to beat the heat.

Next time, I will try one of their many beverages and maybe one of their cakes. I’ll have to study the menu again because there are just too many options.

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