Cocktail Hour: The Lackman Presents Piano Man
3 weeks ago
Have you ever noticed how hard it can be to find a decent Chinese restaurant? I get frustrated with all of the small ones that use Class Z chicken and beef that, well...shouldn’t be called beef. So we decided one night to go a little more upscale and go back to a chain I’ve enjoyed for years: P.F. Chang’s China Bistro.
P.F. Chang’s has a location in the Rookwood shopping center. It’s a relatively large restaurant, but the food and service have always impressed me. We showed up on a weekend night and found the place pretty packed, but we only had to wait five or ten minutes for a table. Note to the temperature sensitive: the restaurant can be pretty frigid in certain places, so bring your parka (or at least a jacket).
We arrived pretty hungry (not that that’s unusual), so we quickly put in an order for the vegetarian dumplings, steamed. Dumplings are one of those dishes that are easy to make, but hard to impress with. P.F. Chang’s was up to the challenge. The dumplings were well cooked and seasoned and packed with vegetables. The chili sauce was great, too, but I could easily have eaten these without it.
From there it was on to the main course, which for me was Kung Pao Scallops with peanuts, chili peppers and scallions. The scallops were terrific, and I’m not one to frequently orders scallops. The dish was huge with maybe thirty scallops (seriously). These weren’t the largest day-boat scallops ever, but they were a pretty decent size. The sauce had a great kick to it, too. My only complaint was that it really came with zero vegetables. I’d rather have a few fewer scallops and some veggies to enjoy the sauce with, too. But it helps that my date is usually willing to share a few disfavored veggies with me (i.e., broccoli). The meal came with plenty of brown rice, and everything was served nice and hot, fresh from the kitchen.
Despite eating dinner in the arctic, the meal was great. P.F. Chang’s is definitely more expensive than most Chinese restaurants, but with good reason—better food, better service, better consistency. I once ordered take-out from a different location, and when the order was missing something, I ended leaving there with soups, appetizers, and one more free dish in addition to the dish they quickly corrected—all in the name of customer service. You just can’t go wrong with P.F. Chang’s. Just come hungry, and bring a coat!
The night before moving day, we knew we were going out to eat, since the contents of the kitchen were all in cardboard boxes, and we knew we didn’t want to think too hard about where to go. We settled on P.F. Chang’s, even though we generally prefer independents, because it was close, easy, consistent, and we were really hungry, so those things were key.
I had never been to this particular PF Chang’s, and I have not been to one at all in years, so it was sort of like a new restaurant to me. The décor was a bit funky and modern, but still in keeping with the Asian-restaurant theme. The restaurant is big. Many restaurants prefer not to show their entire size in one room; Maggiano’s, for example, breaks up their massive space with half-walls, booths down the center, and separate rooms, probably so that it doesn’t feel so much like a warehouse, and also to keep the noise level down. PF Chang’s took no such precautions. The restaurant looks enormous, and it sounds like a room full of people. It is definitely a family-friendly place, but that does not help the noise level at all. This is not the place for an intimate date.
But having been surrounded by boxes all day, we didn’t come for the ambience, but instead for the food. When our waitress came to greet us, she immediately asked how spicy we like our food, mild, medium, or hot. After we told her medium, she started mixing together some assorted sauces that were already on the table. She never told us what they were…or what they were for. I don’t think that either one of us had any of the mystery sauce mixture.
We started our meal with steamed vegetable dumplings, in our usual attempt to fool ourselves into thinking we were eating healthy. (The other option on the veggie dumplings is pan-fried.) They were good, but not amazing, as one would expect steamed dumplings to be. They made us slightly less over-hungry, which was more the point.
I continued with Coconut Curry Vegetables, mixed vegetables, tofu, and peanuts in a coconut curry sauce, with brown rice. Other than the broccoli which was quickly removed, I thought it was very good. There was a coconut flavor to the whole thing (obviously), but it was not overpowering. I marveled at how much food we started with when our main courses appeared, but since we were moving the next day, we were obligated, of course, to finish everything off. It was great and I was full.
Take-home message: PF Chang’s has good food, but it is nothing out of the ordinary that could not be found at a good independent place…probably with a lot less noise and a lot more upscale atmosphere. But if you’re just looking for good food, it’s a safe bet! Just be warned that there are air conditioning vents with strong fans all across the ceiling, and if you’re underneath one of them…brrrr. Order a little extra spice in your mystery sauce to warm yourself up!