And food? It’s Chinese fare designed for the American palate — conservative in its use of Asian ingredients and spices. Whereas the holy trinity of true Chinese cooking (ginger, scallions and garlic) arise with frequency, other more exotic mainstays to this elaborate cuisine (pork bellies, chicken feet and jellyfish) do not. It’s food intended to satisfy a wide array of tastes, not to dazzle the adventurous epicurean.
And it’s good. Very good. Unlike similar chain restaurants where well-manicured customer service, stylish ambience and a carefully selected menu feebly attempt to overcompensate for decidedly average taste, P.F. Chang’s applies this standardized formula and backs it up with excellent classic Chinese cuisine. From the custom-made dipping sauce of hot mustard, chili paste, soy and rice wine vinegar mixed to order at your table to the 55 wines offered both by the bottle and the glass, P.F. Chang’s blends bistrolike dining style with a Mandarin wok sensibility.
Chang’s Chicken in Soothing Lettuce Wraps ($6.50), a tasty blend of wok-seared, diced chicken served with crisp, oversized iceberg lettuce pieces, is an excellent and light beginning to your meal. The flavors of the Chinese trinity arise yet again with the Peking Dumplings ($4.95), traditional dumpling wrappers filled with ground pork served either pan-fried or steamed in a small metal steamer, lending the dish a true dim-sum quality. Salt and Pepper Calamari ($6.95) arrive resting on a bed of crispy rice noodles with a side of sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and peanut sauce for dipping. Standard rings are replaced with strips of tender squid without those pesky little squidlets that tend to resemble deep fried spiders.
The Cantonese Roasted Duck entrée ($12.95) wins with strips of lean, hoisin-plum sauce-marinated duck and is served with steamed wheat buns, giving a nod to a traditional dim sum appetizer char siu bau (a steamed bun filled with barbecued pork). The crispy catfish or Hot Fish ($12.95) is artfully cooked with lightly battered, crispy catfish served in a fiery Sichuan sauce, as is the lightly tossed Spinach Stir-Fried with Garlic ($4.95), which manages to retain the integrity of fresh spinach with just the right touch of garlic flavor to pique the senses. All entrees are served with your choice of white or brown rice, a welcome option.
Dan Dan Noodles ($8.95), a starchier item featuring egg noodles tossed with ground chicken and the trinity sauce, appears haphazardly mixed with a heap of ordinary tasting noodles and a scant amount of chicken. The Wok Seared Lamb ($12.95), served in a warm miso-inspired sauce atop shredded lettuce, is an unfortunate example of a toughened and overly fatty cut of meat. Wok searing tenderloin chops and adding just a shimmer of this creamy sauce could be an excellent alternative.
The tenor here isn’t exactly improvisational. There is a modus operandi underneath those wontons, and it works. The food, like the ambience, is inviting, maybe even predictable. It’s everyday Chinese cooking jazzed up several notches, complete with a hot tea menu and a few Americanized desserts, and it’s good. Isn’t that all that really matters? S
Kendra Bailey Morris teaches cooking classes for Sur La Table Cooking School and works as a freelance chef. She visits each restaurant twice and each visit is unannounced and paid for by Style.
P.F. Chang’s China Bistro ($$) Stony Point Fashion Park 9212 Stony Point 253-0493
Lunch and dinner: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Monday through Thursday and Sunday; 11 a.m.-midnight. Friday and Saturday.
Style Weekly's mission is to provide smart, witty and tenacious coverage of Richmond. Our editorial team strives to reveal Richmond's true identity through unflinching journalism, incisive writing, thoughtful criticism, arresting photography and sophisticated presentation.
We make sense of the news; pursue those in power; explore the city's arts and culture; open windows on provocative ideas; and help readers know Richmond through its people. We give readers the information to make intelligent decisions.