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Wednesday, November 26, 2014
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Published: Thursday, 1/31/2008

Restaurant review: P.F. Chang's China Bistro ****

For the hordes of diners descending upon P.F. Chang's China Bistro at Maumee's new Shops at Fallen Timbers, it's the horse that immediately seizes attention. The majestic 11-foot sculpture, a model of one from China's ancient Han Dynasty, stands guard at the entrance, inviting both wonder and expectation at what feasts may lie ahead.

The warrior horse, made of either terra cotta or stone, is the trademark of the chain's 200 or so locations across the country, along with a gorgeous wall mural that depicts the art, literature, village life, and imperial rule of the era. But it's the American Chinese food that finally decides the nature and worth of the dining experience at P.F. Chang's. In a word, it's superlative.

The menu, a large, awkward folder that requires a certain amount of concentration to peruse, is filled with delights, from traditional Chinese dishes like moo goo gai pan and stir-fried almond and cashew chicken to American-style beef, duck, seafood, and vegetarian entrees. Jumbo grilled prawns and wok-braised spare ribs vie with Asian-marinated New York strip steaks, hot fish, and Singapore street noodles.

The upscale design of the place is also quite stunning, with a lovely bar area and a cavernous main dining room lighted by three wood and fabric lantern chandeliers.

In a 2007 consumer survey of 150 U.S. restaurant chains conducted by Restaurants & Institutions magazine, P.F. Chang's, established in 1993, came out on top, excelling in such categories as food quality, atmosphere, cleanliness, menu variety, and service. In another article, Consumer Reports magazine noted only one problem: crowds.

In fact, the Maumee P.F. Chang's can be a madhouse of milling humanity. There were other problems we encountered that didn't help matters, such as smallish tables and chairs so close together that patrons and servers inevitably ran the risk of banging against one another.

The noise level can also get in the way of normal table conversation, and on one visit, our hurried server could only be described as pushy, pestering us to order and, at the end of the meal, tossing off a distracted "Everything turn out great for you?" before rushing off again. Another time, we got stuck with a wobbly table.

But the food is good enough to compensate for the shortcomings. Among the starters, a large bowl of wonton soup ($6) was thick with chicken, shrimp, pork, and mushrooms, and the pan-fried Peking dumplings ($5.50), stuffed with pork and vegetables, were crispy and filling. I don't know a way to measure how "soothing" the $7.50 Chang's soothing lettuce wraps with spicy chicken are, but I do prefer the romaine wraps at another local Asian eatery to Chang's oversized iceberg variety.

Our entrees were exceptionally good. They included six giant grilled, butterflied prawns ($16), brushed with lemongrass butter and served over garlic noodles. Under the "traditions" category came moo goo gai pan ($11) with chicken and a dozen or more good-sized shrimps. Wok charred beef ($13.50) was tender and juicy, kung pao scallops ($13.50) with peanuts, chili peppers, and scallions were indeed tantalizing, and the oolong marinated sea bass ($20) was as good as it gets - a firm, flaky broiled fillet with spinach and sweet ginger soy.

To top things off, we ordered banana spring rolls ($6), six warm desserts that were somewhat bland despite the caramel sauce and coconut-pineapple ice cream accompanying them. Instead, try the Great Wall of Chocolate, a six-layer, raspberry-sauced cake that is a wonder unto itself.

Contact Bill of Fare at fare@theblade.com



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