When traveling to the states and craving Chinese food, what is one to do? We found ourselves at “P.F. Chang’s” for quintessential Chinese-American fast food. Holding a prime location within Lynnwood Mall, its exterior and sign were visible from the street driving up. Though if you manage to miss it, the bridled and saddled statue horse in white is hard to ignore.
Inside, the restaurant was dressed very modern with touches of traditional Chinese. Set in amber tones with splashes of red, it felt very warm and inviting. Mosaic tiled columns and artificial stone fixtures. Lengthy space filling mirrors above the booths that lined the far right wall. Large circles of light covering the ceilings, speckling it like polka dots. Half drawn shades in yellow over frosted glass of orange.
An iron-esque statue of a Chinese warrior clad in armour. Asian lanterns hung over the bar, crafted from wood and paper with tassels dangling. And of course a lucky cat with its paw up ushering good fortune. Most striking was their full length wall mural. Posted above the kitchen it depicted traditional life in China through watercolour and pastel paints. A picnic in the woods, packaged dishes, a minstrel strumming, and cloaked citizens gathered in conversation and play.
A wall of curiosities stood on the left. Various ornamental vases some painted blue, others topped with lids; iron kettles and porcelain pots, stone towers and wooden trays, and a heron statute standing proud on one leg. Given the spacing, it was almost like the stone veneer was crafted just to house these pieces. All in all enough enough Asian artifacts to give it some authenticity. I appreciated being able to read their mission statement and their values, having it reassure my experience to come. There transparency was comforting, as it was framed on the wall for too see.
The expansive kitchen could be seen spanning almost half the length of the restaurant. Its glass windows gave you a look at their large scale operations, a peak at the dishes coming up to the counter. I could even make out a row of rice cookers from my seat. Everything was definitely made to order, no mass produced dishes cooling in troughs and nothing sweating under heat lamps.
The servers in black tops and blue jeans moved just as quick as those in white in the kitchen. The former were all friendly, our server in particular even took the time to ask if we have been to a “P.F. Chang’s” before. Then taking the time to point out their larger portion sizes, suggesting lunch servings if we weren’t planning on sharing.
I recognized majority of what was on menu. A few Chinese classics broken down with North American familiarities, and Japanese tapas’ offered with less than traditional ingredients. Asian favourites watered down for beginners to stomach, yet with enough originality to keep those familiar interested. The pineapple and avocado pairing on the cover was an appropriate example of this. Surprisingly there was a lack of chopsticks, instead we got two forks and a knife. One fork was specifically for salad, when was the last time you had salad at a Chinese restaurant?
“Tuna tataki”, sliced sushi grade ahi tuna seared rare, topped with garlic chips, daikon sprouts, jalapeño and coated in ponzu sauce. Served with a chilled seaweed salad. Why did I order Japanese at an Chinese fast food chain? It was most unsatisfactory. The tuna was cooked the appropriate rare, but what should be a light sear was overcooked and cracked edges. Hard and dry the crust was difficult to swallow, in hind sight I should have discarded them and instead focus on the soft middle. They definitely looked better than they tasted. The potency of the jalapeño overpowered the mild tuna taste. This was the first time that my tuna tataki was chilli pepper spicy. The distinctive seaweed salad helped to balance everything. Overall the dish was over salted and a side of rice was needed.
Each lunch time combo came with either brown or white rice, the fried variety was available for an extra $1. Your order also comes with a choice between soup or side salad. Definitely the perfect lunch size for one, you left fully satisfied.
“Hot and sour soup”. A soup this layered and this intricate, I am sure was prepared as a batch at the start of service. Delivered piping hot there was the need to wait for it to cool. Thick with a syrup like consistency, the bits and pieces added some good chew to the mix. Carrot shreds, tofu chunks, and black fungus. It had some good spice, a burn that sits on on your tongue tingling. As a whole it came across more sweet than anything else.
The “Green salad” was pretty unspectacular. Your standard grocery bag salad, a bowl of shredded lettuce and no other vegetables. Dressed lightly with a lemon based vinaigrette it was pretty bland. Definitely just a filler.
“Ginger chicken with broccoli”. Sliced chicken breast tossed with ginger, green onions and fresh broccoli. The chicken was overcooked and lacked flavour. Though the zesty sauce made up for some of it. They certainly weren’t stingy with it, plenty to fully coat the undressed rice.
“Beef with broccoli”. Sliced flank steal seared with fresh ginger, green onions and garlic. The beef was better prepared compared to the chicken, done with a highly gingery note. Unlike the fried rice, that was beyond bland. I think the rice was literally just fried. Regular white rice fried for texture and not necessarily taste. Strange, as usually a fried rice comes with more ingredients tossed in. This was definitely not worth $1 more.
“Chang’s Kung pao with chicken”, spicy Sichuan chili sauce, peanuts, celery, scallions, and red chilli peppers. There was lots of spice in this, you absolutely got the “pao” in the “Kung pao”. Though like the other dishes before the portion was uneven, more rice than meat and veggies.
Sadly our server forgot to give us our end of meal fortune cookies, honestly they are the best part of the meal. We were left eying the basket that just happened to be by our booth. We did eventually ask, after pondering whether or not we should just help ourselves.
Would I come back? – No.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – No.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
The restaurant was not a bistro as advertised. When you read “bistro” you imagine a smaller space set up more intimately. This was banquet sized hall with additional seating at the bar or outdoor on the patio. Large enough to host a wedding and spacious enough for a family reunion. Though I don’t recommend doing either here. As for the cuisine I am probably biased, I grew up eating Chinese food and visiting Chinese restaurants on special occasions. So I don’t find this kind of food especially appealing, I guess that is the reason why I had trouble ordering and went with a Japanese option for lunch. The food is average at best and overly salty at worst. There was a need to chug glasses of water that couldn’t be refilled fast enough, just to get the salt off your palette. Overall this isn’t the best representation of American style Chinese food, but it is definitely a step up from the food court variety, and that of its main competition, “Panda Express”. Here, although salty, the ingredients are fresher and the meat is of a higher quality. Not for me, but I can see value in it for those less adventurous when it comes to dining. Don’t deny your cravings.