West Miami-Dade dim sum spot Tropical Chinese was shut for two days the week before Christmas after state health inspectors found a flurry of violations in the restaurant's kitchen, including "20-plus live roaches found in a box storing glass teacups in the dry storage next to dumpling prep table," food being kept at higher-than-acceptable temperatures, improperly dated food, "toxic chemicals stored with/by food," and "employee touched bare body part and then engaged in food preparation."
Inspectors handed down 62 violations, leading the restaurant to close Monday, December 19. Owner Mei Yu says she quickly instructed the kitchen staff to scrub the place top-to-bottom, called in an exterminator, and had a repairmen ensure the restaurant's walk-in cooler was a safe temperature.
"After he left, everybody was cleaning in the kitchen, power-washing everything. We took out every single shelf, every single piece of equipment, everything inside and out," Yu says.
However, she also admits to covering the violation sign that inspectors slapped on the restaurant's front window. Yu says she was concerned what her regular customers would think. "We had a full reservation book that night," she says.
The move caused even more problems when, after a full day of cleaning, inspectors returned to tell her someone had called and reported the restaurant was open, forcing it closed the following day as well.
Although some of the less serious violations seem to be easy fixes that could be amended through some better staff diligence, Yu says she's not making any significant changes in the kitchen. She is considering hiring an outside company to clean the place weekly.
"We're not firing anybody; it's not anybody's fault," she says. "We're still in the middle of the holidays right now — it's very busy — but we wash the kitchen every day."
Still, some of the violations are so basic it seems like someone is due for a tongue lashing. Among them: buildup of dust and dirt, knives stored in cracks between equipment, improperly dated and stored food, and mold buildup around equipment gaskets.
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Yu's parents opened Tropical in 1984 after they migrated from Taiwan to Miami when she and her brother Gregory were teenagers. The siblings have since taken over the restaurant, updated its interior, and expanded its dim sum offerings.
Yet the lengthy list of violations seems to be another strike at the heart of Miami's limited dim sum offerings, which has been losing steam to Broward County and its temples of pristine, Hong Kong-style dim sum such as Gold Marquess Fine Chinese Cuisine, Pine Court Chinese Bistro, and China Pavilion.
Correction: Earlier version of this article stated that Tropical Chinese closed on Monday, December 21. It was actually Monday, December 19.