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P.F. Chang’s China Bistro

March 11, 2014

For years I tried to convince my husband to eat at P.F. Chang’s.  I knew my husband loved Asian food, and I was a big fan of the food at P.F. Chang’s so I knew he would love it too. Even though we had even made plans to dine at various P.F. Chang’s locations over the years, for one reason or another it never panned out.  And then finally, out of the blue one weekend, my husband asked me if I might want to eat at P.F. Chang’s.   He said he’d been looking at the menu and it really interested him and he wanted to make reservations.  Ok, well, I’m not one to stand in his way, so I said let’s go for it!


P.F. Chang’s uses influences of both Chinese and American cultures to create unique and inspired Asian food.  All P.F. Chang’s restaurants are decorated with Terra Cotta Warriors, including the terra cotta horse which symbolizes the Forbidden City in China built for the first Chinese Emperor.  Opening it’s doors in 1993 in Scottsdale, Arizona, P.F. Chang’s is the brainchild of Paul Fleming (P.F.) and Philip Chiang (Chang) who used a combination of their names in the name of the restaurant.  Today, P.F. Chang’s can be found all over the United States and all over the world with restaurants in locations such as Turkey, the U.A.E., the Philippines, Argentina, Columbia and many more.  Though the restaurant is wildly successful and popular, especially judging by how packed it was on a Saturday night when we showed up to their Anaheim location, P.F. Chang’s is sometimes ridiculed for not being authentic Chinese food at completely overblown prices.  However, as they state, P.F. Chang’s isn’t authentic Chinese food but rather food that uses influences from both Chinese and American cultures.  It’s up to each person to judge for themselves what they think of the dishes that are served.


Our night started off with some unique drinks.  My husband ordered a drink that he is familiar with from his days of working at a bar, ginger beer.  Not literally an alcoholic beer, ginger beer is made up of fresh ginger and lemon juice mixed with pure cane sugar.  I’m still not clear as to why it’s called ginger beer, but it’s probably the same reason we have root beer.  Anyhow, my husband loved his ginger beer, and when I tasted it, I found it to be incredibly refreshing.  More sweet from the combination of lemon juice and pure cane sugar than anything else.  Although, at the end, you can get a few subtle notes of the spicy, tangy fresh ginger.  I really liked this drink.


I ordered a drink called Auntie Chang’s frappe made with pineapple and orange juice blended with bananas and strawberries and a touch of honey.  This drink too was quite refreshing and light.  I really could taste the citrus from the orange juice and the sweetness of the strawberries.  The touch of honey swirled into the mix also provided a nice floral note.  I couldn’t really taste the banana, though I think that might have been added more for volume and body for the drink than for flavor.  And while I get a little bit of tang of the pineapple juice, I think I would have enjoyed having more pineapple flavor in the drink.


My husband is a lover of hot & sour soup and asked that we start off our meal with a cup of hot & sour soup.  The soup is described as a “rich and tangy broth with chicken, silken tofu, bamboo shoots, mushrooms and egg.  I loved the heat, or the essence of heat, that the soup brought, just enough of an undertone of chili oil.  The chicken in the soup was nice and I loved the bamboo shoots and the silky, soft tofu.  My husband, not surprisingly, liked the mushrooms and the tofu in the soup as well.  Unfortunately, I did think that the soup itself was a bit too salty.  I didn’t really like the salty bite I felt after every spoonful of soup.


For an appetizer, I had chosen P.F. Chang’s famous chicken lettuce wraps.  Served with iceberg lettuce leaves that you use as plates or edible serving dishes, the filling is made with wok-seared chicken, mushrooms, green onions and water chestnuts and then topped with crispy rice sticks, this is considered the restaurant’s signature appetizer.  Along with the plate full of iceberg lettuce leaves and the chicken filling you are also provided with a sauce that you drizzle on the lettuce cups.  When the sauce is brought to the table, the waiter asks you how spicy you like it, the spicier your like it, the more chili oil and chili sauce is added.  Essentially, the sauce starts off with some light soy sauce for the nice salty flavor, then you add in spoonfuls of chili oil and chili sauce and you can finish it off with a spoonful of Chinese hot mustard.  You mix everything together and you get a tangy combination of salty, sweet, spicy and tangy.  To eat the lettuce wraps, you start with a large iceberg lettuce leaf that you hold in your hand so that the leaf almost forms a bowl.  Into the “bowl” you take spoonfuls of the chicken filling and some of the crispy rice sticks to add some nice crunch.  Finally, you take a couple of spoonfuls of the sauce and spoon it over the chicken filling.  Then you wrap or roll up the lettuce leave and form a lettuce wrap.  Then you take your creation and enjoy!  It’s almost like being able to play with your food!  The combination of the chicken, mushrooms, green onions and especially water chestnuts is tasty.  When you combine it with the tangy, spicy sauce and the cool, crispy and crunchy iceberg lettuce leaf, you have the perfect combination and a fabulous preview of what’s to come!


After perusing through the menu, my husband declared that he had to have the crab wontons.  My husband has always said that he’s a huge fan of crab, other than the fact that he doesn’t know how to crack crab legs or claws and they frustrate him so he never bothers with it.  But when you have the crab prepared for him and he just needs to eat it, then he loves it.  The crab wontons are crispy, deep-fried wontons filled with a combination of creamy crab meat, bell peppers, and green onions.  It’s served along with a pickled carrot and cucumber slaw and a side of a spicy plum sauce.  After one bite into the crab wonton, my husband was in love.  He really liked the flavors of the crab filling and the combination of it with the crunchy deep-fried wonton.  He also liked the spicy plum sauce.  For me, I too enjoyed the crab wonton, but without the spicy plum sauce which I found unnecessary.  However,  while I loved the pickled carrot and cucumber slaw, my husband thought that was unnecessary.  My husband loved these crab wontons so much that he felt like we should place another order for more crab wontons.  I had to remind him that we had a lot of food ordered for our family-style entrée that I didn’t think we’d need to order more appetizers.  Reluctantly, he agreed.


To start off our family-style meal, we decided on the P.F. Chang’s combo fried rice.  Described as rice tossed in a savory soy sauce and sautéed with eggs, julienne carrots, bean sprouts and scallions, what makes it a combo is that it is mixed with a combination of beef, chicken and shrimp for protein.  I will admit that while a simple fried rice, they do a good job of making it really tasty.  It’s not too sweet, not too salty.  And I really liked the mixture of the beef, shrimp and chicken.  It had a nice sprinkling of carrots, scallions and eggs mixed into it, though I could have used more bean sprouts, but I know that’s not always a common item found in fried rice.


From here, my husband and I decided on one meat dish and one seafood dish.  I chose the meat dish which was shaking beef.  The menu describes shaking beef as “tender flank steak and broccolini, on fresh greens, tomatoes, and red onions, with zesty lime vinaigrette.”  Personally, I love broccolini, so any dish that has broccolini in it will always have me ordering!  I thought that the fresh greens on this plate were a bit excessive and I could have done with out it.  The tomatoes, while I didn’t love them, did provide a nice amount of acidity to the dish.  The star though was the flank steak, it was the most tender and flavorful beef I’ve had a in a shaking beef dish.  It was so perfectly cooked and melt in your mouth tender.  Add a bit of the zesty lime vinaigrette and this was just fantastic.  I really enjoyed this version of shaking beef as it was a combination of so many wonderful flavors.


My husband chose the seafood dish.  From the menu, he zeroed in on the Oolong Chilean Sea Bass.  With this preparation, the sea bass filet is marinated in oolong tea and broiled in a sweet ginger sauce and served atop a bed of warm spinach.  First off, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a larger filet of sea bass in my life.  This was massive, which was all the better for us because it was all the more to enjoy!  The warm spinach was a bit of an overkill and something we barely touched, besides the fact that I think if you’re going to serve the sea bass over warm spinach the spinach should be wilted and cooked in the sweet ginger sauce as well.  This was more like having fresh spinach thrown on a plate that already had hot ginger sauce on it and then the hot sea bass filet was put on top of the spinach.  The sea bass itself was so incredibly tender and flaky and flavorful.  The only thing is, I could really only taste the sweet ginger sauce that the filet was broiled in and I couldn’t taste any of the oolong tea that it was marinated in.  That’s not to say that’s a good thing or a bad thing, I just didn’t get any hint of the tea at all.  But this was one of the most tender pieces of sea bass filet I’ve ever enjoyed, and the sweet ginger sauce was spot on.  The flavor of the sweet ginger sauce really transferred and transfused into the sea bass filet and it was such a perfect combination.

By this time, with 2 appetizers, a bowl of soup, and 3 entrée dishes we were stuffed.  In fact, we had to box up some of the fried rice and shaking beef to take home.  But, we couldn’t come all this way and leave without ordering dessert.  Besides, my husband was really eager to try one of the desserts on their seasonal fall menu, and there was another dessert that I knew I wanted.


My husband wanted to try out a dessert that was on the restaurant’s special fall menu, the caramel apple wontons.  These are handmade, deep-fried wontons that are filled with warm apple, caramel and cream cheese.  The wontons are then dusted with powdered sugar and served alongside cinnamon and caramel sauce.  You can choose from an order of 2 or 4.  Since we already knew we’d be ordering another dessert and just wanted a small taste of this one, we choose an order of 2.  I loved that they served this wontons warm and crispy, that makes all the difference.  I was a bit skeptical of having cream cheese as a filling, but when it’s warm, the cream cheese melts and oozes out and is more like a sauce for the apple and caramel filling inside rather than a creamy, gooey mess.  This really did taste like fall all rolled up into a convenient wonton package.  The apples and the caramel are always going to be a great combination.  But it was the melding of the liquid cream cheese, warm apples and warm apple with a bit of sweetness from the powdered sugar that really made this dessert come together.


For me, I couldn’t wait to order the banana spring rolls.  I’ve had these before, and remembered how much I had loved them then.  And of course, the dessert has banana in it, so I couldn’t resist.  The banana spring rolls are essentially 3 egg roll wrappers filled with a whole banana, wrapped and then deep-fried and then cut in half.  The deep-frying makes the egg roll wrapper golden brown and crispy, but it also gives the banana inside texture and causes the sugars in the banana to caramelize so that it’s perfectly cooked and yummy.  Served with a couple of scoops of coconut-pineapple ice cream, drizzled with caramel and vanilla sauce and served with fresh berries, this dessert is heavenly!  While the idea of making banana egg rolls is seems like such a simple one, I absolutely loved it.  The flavors of this dessert are one of the best combinations of tropical flavors I’ve had in a dessert, the coconut pineapple ice cream, the fresh berries, and of course the sweet caramelized banana.  This is almost dessert perfection on one plate.  It was the perfect ending to our terrific meal.

After dinner, my husband walked out of the restaurant wondering why we hadn’t ever eaten at P.F. Chang’s before.  We were stuffed, but pleasantly so.  The meal was terrific and the food presented to us so many wonderful combinations of flavors and textures.  And we both agreed that we’d be perfectly happy to come back and order the exact same meal again, there isn’t a thing we would change.  Starting with the crab wontons and the hot & sour soup, to the combo fried rice, the shaking beef, the amazing sea bass and the to-die-for dessert, this was a perfect Saturday night date night meal with my husband.  While perhaps P.F. Chang’s may be criticized for not really being true Chinese food, I think that if you go into the restaurant knowing that they are trying to combine both Asian and American culture and cuisine in order to make harmonious food, you don’t come out of it disappointed that you didn’t get the food that you expected.  What you get instead is a wonderful melding of food and flavors and seasonings and ingredients of two different cultures that are both so interwoven together.  You can be sure that my husband and I will be back to P.F. Chang’s again in the future.

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