Friday, March 2, 2012

P.F. Chang's China Bistro

Located in the Pinnacle Hills Mall, at 2203 S. Promenade, P.F. Chang’s China Bistro can be readily identified by the life size horse statue in front of their establishment.  If you miss that, there is always the tantalizing smell of garlic wafting through the air.  Since many major cities have one, P.F. Chang’s is not indigenous to Northwest Arkansas.  But it has food and atmosphere to rival the better Chinese restaurants in the area, and it provides a welcome alternative to the proliferation of Chinese buffets.  It is also VERY vegetarian friendly, with numerous vegan friendly options and even a gluten free menu.

The night that we come we are seated after a brief wait, by a friendly greeter gentleman that we never see again.  The waitress arrives shortly and we order vegetarian lettuce wraps for an appetizer.  The vegetarian lettuce wraps are very tasty.  We have ordered them over and over again without being disappointed.  Vegetarian lettuce wraps consist of baked tofu, diced and mixed with spices.  You scoop the mixture into lettuce shells, and eat the filled shells like a sandwich.  Though my wife is a carnivore, she eats the lettuce wraps with glee.  If you order them with a side of brown rice, they can serve as an entrée.  You might also want to order another appetizer to complement them.  Sichuan-style asparagus is one of my favorites.

As opposed to salt and pepper on the tables, P.F. Chang’s has bottles of vinegar, spicy oil and soy sauce.  They also provide hot mustard and hot sauce.  And the waiters and waitresses provide free demonstrations in how to mix them together. 

P.F. Chang’s has four items on their vegetarian menu proper:  the Coconut Curry Vegetables, Buddha’s Feast (steamed or stir-fried vegetables over brown or white rice), Ma Po Tofu and Stir-Fried Eggplant.  The Coconut Curry Vegetables is a rich and sensuous dish, and I reserve it for special occasions when I have earned the calories.  Buddha’s Feast is a lighter dish that can be ordered with baked tofu, a low calorie alternative to the crispy fried tofu in the Coconut Curry and Ma Po Tofu dishes.  According to Calorie Lab, the Coconut Curry Vegetables has 950 calories, of which 567 are from fat.  The steamed Buddha’s Feast has 200 calories, while the stir-fried Buddha’s Feast has 340 calories.  The baked tofu would add to the calorie totals of each.  By the way, all the vegetarian dishes are vegan.  I have, however, ordered vegetarian fried rice with baked tofu on occasion, and I assume that this has egg in it.  Tonight I decide to ask for somethinng a little different.  I ask the waitress if the chef can make the Almond and Cashew Chicken with tofu instead of chicken.  The chef has no trouble obliging me, though the dish comes overflowing with tofu.  There are very few vegetables, almonds or cashews.  I am still happy with the dish, just not echanted by the broccoli forest. 

If you were wondering, my wife usually orders the Chang’s Spare Ribs.  She absolutely loves this dish, which comes with a very unusual cole slaw to tempt vegetarians.  Tonight though, she opts for the Wonton Soup.  She is absolutely delighted with it.  As you can see from the photo, it's a meal in itself!
The atmosphere is dark and romantic, with a few prized booths for special occasions.  Oftentimes there is a 45 minute wait on Friday nights.  Since we had a Border’s bookstore right next door, until it closed recently, we never found the wait very annoying.  You can also order a drink and sit at the bar, though we have rarely done this.  We did have the best lime margarita we had ever tasted at P.F. Chang’s.

In general we spend $25 to $30 on dinner, which I realize must come as a complete shock to anyone reading this in New York or Los Angeles.  Since I know that people outside Northwest Arkansas are now following my blog on Twitter, I assume that some of you will want to try P.F. Chang’s in other cities.  My wife and I have tried P.F. Chang’s in Tulsa and St. Louis as well, and found them very comparable in quality to the one in Rogers.  The prices are also comparable, but obviously this would not be true everywhere.  In all, P.F. Chang's is a restaurant that come highly recommended for their food, atmosphere and service.  The prices are reasonable.  But be prepared for the wait. 

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