If you are lucky enough to live in New York City or Los Angeles, you probably wouldn't go to P F Chang's even if it opened a branch next door to you. But if you have to spend a lot of time in a place like Tulsa, as I did, you'll probably go there a lot.
Don't think of P F Chang's as an authentic Chinese restaurant. If you do, you will be so busy spotting errors in their preparation that you won't find time to enjoy your meal. Think of it as Chinese-inspired American food. If you do that, you will find plenty to like. Yes, some of the dishes are "dumbed down" for American tastes. Some have more sugar than they should. But many are not, even when you'd expect them to be. No gloppy sauce drowning your meat and veggies. Usually, there's only enough sauce to coat the meat. Some dishes use fermented black beans to give a strong funky flavor which I adore but which would have many a picky American eater screaming "Ewwwww" And they've even come up with a few good innovations. They marinate the beef in the American Chinese classic "beef with broccoli", yielding a richer flavor. Sometimes they char beef or lamb on a wok to give it a barbecue flavor. They add melon balls to the HK fave of shrimp with candied walnuts in mayonnaise sauce. I had lamb with cumin there a year before I found it in remote Sichuan restaurants in Queens. They even added a touich of mint, a welcome innovation. (Unfortunately, they later changed the recipe, added sugar and cut down on the cumin.) One of their best dishes is "hot fish"... fish filet pieces coated in potato starch, then gently stir-fried with snow peas with a tiny bit of a clear, tart sauce I've never found in a Chinese restaurant.
The good news about P F Chang's is that it proves that Americans are prepared to pay high prices to eat Chinese food in an elegant setting. The bad news is that you won't see a single Chinese face, either at the front of the house or in the kitchen.
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