Wednesday, June 9, 2010

P.F. Chang's China Bistro

P.F.Chang's China Bistro
1181 Ridgeway Rd
Memphis, TN 38119-5309
(901) 818-3889

Click Here for Google Map

I usually try to avoid eating at and reviewing chain restaurants. But I figure that we need to post more than once a month on this blog in order to actually attract visitors (because that's what we're all about here). So expanding my repertoire is a good thing. I've been to PF Chang's numerous times, most recently for a business dinner. That recent business dinner is what sparked the present review.

We went around 6 p.m. and it wasn't too crowded yet, so we sat immediately. PF Chang's is basically the most Americanized Chinese food you can get. Case in point. The PF part of the name is from Paul Fleming: the same guy who runs Flemming's Steakhouse (another chain). The Chang part of the name is from Chef Philip Chiang who conceived of most of the menu. They just altered the name a little since they figured the name "Chang" would appeal to Americans much more than "Chiang." Or maybe they thought Americans couldn't pronounce "Chiang" or would be thrown off by it? It's a bit unclear. What is clear is that the name is completely made up and probably devised to insinuate "Chinese food" while appealing to mass America. I find the entire concept mildly insulting but I'm not sure on behalf of whom? Chinese people, who have to have their names changed/cleansed to appeal to American culture or to Americans, who are supposed unable to like/identify with authentic Chinese food. On the one hand, I'm probably making way too big a deal about this. It's just a name meant to attract more business. On the other hand, when I think about it, it does make we want to vomit.

This whole thing reminds me of the recent horror movie, SPLICE. From what I gather, in that movie, scientists combine (i.e. splice) human DNA with DNA from other animals in an experiment to push the limits and/or gain profit and fame. And surprise, surprise, it doesn't work out and their creation eventually kills/eats them. A classic tale of human hubris and refusal to submit to nature (see Frankenstein). Here is a short snipet of the movie to give you a taste:

Well, the founders of PF Chang's obviously should have watched SPLICE, because, much like that predictable movie, you pretty much know what's going to happen when you combine Americanized cuisine/diet with a Chinese name/restaurant. You end up with a Pseudo-Chinese restaurant that is really just heavy, salty stir fry. And just like the creature in SPLICE, this comes back to get you because PF Chang's eventually rises up and kills you either by obesity or by heart disease caused by excessive salt. Ladies and Gentlemen, let's now continue with our review!

Another important thing to know about PF Chang's: it is an upscale version of Chinese food and therefore more on the pricey side. Thus, this isn't your standard take-out. In comparison, the same company that owns PF Chang's also owns Pei Wei. Pretty much the exact same food, but the latter is cheaper and has a less classy environment.

Back to PF. As far as food goes, it is what you would expect. Heavy, salty Chinese food that is tasty but definitely sticks with you. For the most part, I find it hard to distinguish this type of food when made by one restaurant or by another. It usually all tastes the same. I got Chang's (Chiang's?) Spicy Chicken, which was basically a place of chicken squares stir fried in an unknown, mildly spicy sauce, with brown rice on the side. It was pretty good for what it was and I cleaned my plate. Of course, I was regretting that decision later that night when I was pounding waters in an attempt to rehydrate.

In the past, I usually get the Mongolian Beef: beef stir fried in a dark brown sauce. I think that is the tastiest thing on the menu. Something about the brown sauce they use in combination with the beef makes it pretty good. Those with me at the business dinner got the somewhat famous lettuce wraps and orders of fried rice. Overall, the food is tasty but heavy and not overly compelling. Thus, I never wake up in the morning and think, "Wow, I really want to go to PF Chang's Tonight!"

A brief shout out does need to be given to their "Great Wall of Chocolate" dessert. It is one of my wife's favorite chocolate desserts, anywhere period. Of course, I find it funny that it's served at a Pseudo-Chinese restaurant. But I'll back her up. It's pretty good if you're in the mood to handle the caloric intake. (After you guess how many calories are in it, visit here.

Service and atmosphere are pretty standard for a chain. The atmosphere is actually pretty good for people watching. PF Chang's is always pretty packed at night and especially on Friday and Saturday nights. It could actually be a pretty good atmosphere for a dinner date because it's rather dark inside and allows for pretty good people watching. But, I would never take a date there just because it's a chain. If you and your date can stomach that, then it would be ok.

So, in conclusion, we have a chain restaurant that serves somewhat pricey, heavy and salty yet tasty Chinese food with standard service and atmosphere. In light of this fact and despite the presence of the Great Wall of Chocolate, I give PF Chang's 2.5 stars. I think that Pei Wei is a much better bang for your buck. I would eat at Pei Wei and get your fix that way for a cheaper price. Meanwhile, I would also avoid attempting to splice anything, whether it be human DNA with animal DNA or American food culture with Chinese cuisine.

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