China Café adds twist with French bistro setting

Molly Abraham
The Detroit News

China Café is a Chinese restaurant with French sensibility. It has the dedicated “mom and pop” proprietors, the warm and friendly atmosphere and the carefully prepared dishes that are the definition of a true Parisian bistro.

Tucked into a corner of a small shopping plaza in Novi, it has steadily improved since opening in — believe it or not — 1996. Despite the longevity, Kelly and Susana Chang manage to keep the restaurant fresh and up-to-date in both menu and atmosphere. They have expanded the menu over the years with touches of Thai and more than just touches of Korea, where Kelly Chang grew up.

And an appealing selection of small plates was added recently.

The rare seared sushi-grade Ahi tuna with mango avocado salsa is one of the popular small dishes served.

As a fan of the concept of small plates, I ordered several over two recent visits. And I’m not alone. Kelly Chang says they have been a huge hit. Small plates include Beijing street style wings, terrific little golden brown chicken morsels with just the right kick from five-spice rub, garlic and jalapeno pepper; seared rare sushi-grade Ahi tuna with mango avocado salsa; northern Chinese style dumplings filled with a mix of pork, scallops and shrimp, and just to underscore the bistro element, crisp sweet potato and white potato fries dusted with parsley, garlic, black pepper and sea salt, known as bistro fries.

My favorite of the small plates surprised me, since I generally avoid Brussels sprouts in any guise. Not here. The sprouts are seasoned with smoked pork belly, minced garlic and a hint of chili sauce, and they are transformed into an appealing dish. Another standout on the list is Dan Dan noodles, fresh noodles tossed with minced pork, chili sauce and Sichuan peppercorns.

Kelly Chang, chef of China Café, opened the Novi restaurant with his wife in 1996 and since then has added touches of Thai and Korean fare to the menu.

It would be possible to put together a complete meal of small plates, but there is much more on the menu, such dishes as spicy salted calamari, cilantro shrimp, sole with black bean sauce and flank steak with fresh ginger sauce. Vegetarians aren’t overlooked. There are several treatments of tofu (bean curd) and a lovely mix of broccoli, asparagus and peapods in a medium-spicy garlic sauce among the 11 vegetarian dishes, counting three salads.

Everything is nicely served to tables doubled-covered in white linen topped with white paper in the attractive windowed setting that looks out on the patio and its bright red umbrellas. The artistic, uncluttered setting is dominated by an ornate silk emperor robe set into a frame between the dining room and the bar. It is a family heirloom brought from China by Kelly Chang’s father.

The well-trained staff is part of the ensemble style, and they aren’t afraid to recommend their favorite dishes.

China Café serves up carefully prepared small dishes at its strip shopping mall location in Novi.

An updated dinner menu is scheduled to debut on Nov.1.

Fans of Asian fare should put this attractive spot on their list.

China Café Asian Bistro

24299 Novi Road, Novi

Call: (248) 449-4888


Hours: 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Tues.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Fri.-Sat., noon-9 p.m. Sun. Closed Mon.

Prices: Appetizers $7-$13, soups $4, salads $6-$14, small plates $7-$13, lunch entrees $6.95-$9.95, dinner entrees $9-$17.95.

Credit cards: All major.

Liquor: Full bar

Noise level: Moderate

Parking: Attached lot

Wheelchair access: No barriers

What the ratings mean

★ — routine ★★ — good ★★1/2 — very good

★★★ — excellent ★★★★ — outstanding