By New Times
By Robrt L. Pela
By Lauren Saria and Heather Hoch
By Deborah Sussman
By Robrt L. Pela and Amy Silverman
By Kathleen Vanesian
By Eric Schaefer
By Heather Hoch
Taking Stock: I was intrigued to learn that P.F. Chang's, the oh-so-trendy Chinese restaurant, is considering going public. Its operators have filed for an initial public offering, looking to raise almost $60 million from stock to finance expansion.
The restaurant has been extremely successful from the get-go, five years ago, when restaurateur Paul Fleming opened the first P.F. Chang's in Scottsdale Fashion Square. Now, there are 15 branches, from Florida to California, including a bustling second Valley unit in Tempe.
When I reviewed P.F. Chang's back in 1993, I hated it. The concept--a hip, elegant setting with dumbed-down Chinese food aimed at fork-and-knife Midwestern palates--had its ethnic-restaurant priorities backward. I wrote that the "food was so dull it could induce a coma, prepared without whimsy, creativity or style. If this fare were music, it would be played in an elevator."
Obviously, the eating-out public disagreed with me, in droves. These days, you can wait hours for a table. And the company's management clearly believes Wall Street investors will be just as enthusiastic.
Maybe, I reflected, I was wrong about P.F. Chang's. So I revisited the place, prepared to reassess my position.
The verdict? P.F. Chang's still puts me to sleep. For the life of me, I can't see why anyone who likes Chinese food would want to eat here.
Take the harvest spring rolls. (Harvest? What harvest?) They're snoozy, fast-food-quality egg rolls, filled with veggies that haven't been sufficiently cooked. The Peking ravioli are another appetizer loser, four-for-$5 dumplings that registered zero on the flavor scale.
My heart sank when I looked at the main-dish list. So many items come battered and fried, which, I guess, is just the way America's masses prefer. I thought we might escape the battering with a daily special, wok-fried monkfish. (The menu description said nothing about batter.) Nope--it turned out to be tasteless chunks of battered fish. And that wasn't the only culinary crime committed against the monkfish, a meaty species that's often called the "poor man's lobster." The kitchen heaped on a sweet, cloying plum sauce that effectively masked any flavor that might have inadvertently slipped through the batter cracks.
Can you believe this place offers sweet-and-sour pork? Perhaps, I imagined as I ordered the dish, the chef had come up with an inventive twist to it. A pipe dream--it's just chunks of battered pork with pineapple, green peppers and onion, drenched in a one-dimensional sauce. If you saw this in a chafing tray at your employee cafeteria, you'd keep walking past it.
Spicy ground chicken and eggplant didn't have enough spice in it to singe a newborn's tongue. But it did have enough salt to take care of your recommended sodium allowance for a week. And the bland Szechuan chicken chow fun has to be the only Chinese noodle dish in history that I didn't want to finish.
Paul Fleming is a savvy businessman who knows how to make money. My advice: Buy stock. Eat someplace else.
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