Someone should sponsor me to test out chain restaurant happy hours with friends. In exchange for sponsorship, we’ll eat and drink a bunch of things, after which I will post a recap (when it’s convenient for me) and even supply my own very average phone photo!
Why P.F. Chang’s?
There’s been a lot of discussion about Andrew Zimmern’s restaurant opening and Fast Company interview in which he calls P.F. Chang’s a rip-off and questions founder Philip Chiang’s Asian identity. Chiang had my favorite response to the whole shirtstorm in this Washington Post interview. He simply responds, ““I am not going to get involved in his muck. I am totally comfortable with who I am and with who I am not.”
I was also struck by local, third-generation restaurateur Edward Fong’s thoughtful response. Growing up in the south suburbs, one of my family members would occasionally invite us over for a take-out meal from one of the Fong family restaurants. It was such a treat and now I want to go back.
You can learn more about Philip Chiang in this Honolulu Magazine interview from 2011 that shares how his family fled China in 1949 to San Fransisco. His mother Cecilia opened two, successful upscale restaurants in San Francisco and Los Angeles. After art school, Chiang helped run his mother’s restaurants before operating his own.
Personally, I don’t care if Zimmern loves Asian food so much that he wants to serve it as part of an empire of chain restaurants as long as he’s not a jerk and the food is as good and authentic as he claims. Whether or not he’s accomplishing these things is up to you.
Anyway, what I really wanted to know was, “Does P.F. Chang’s happy hour suck?” The short answer is that no, it does not.
It’s been many years since I’ve visited a P.F. Chang’s. Back then, I was a food snob poo-pooing chain restaurants, processed, and non-organic food. Looking at PF Chang’s menu now, I see an emphasis on scratch-cooking and their “Farm to Wok philosophy.” I’m not saying we should forsake local restaurants for chains. What I’m saying is that I appreciate chains for what they are.
There are two P.F. Chang’s locations in the Twin Cities: The Southdale Mall in Edina and Arbor Lakes in Maple Grove. Happy hour runs Monday-Friday, until 6 p.m. You’ll find $6 cocktails, wines, and sake, $4 craft beer, and $4-5 plates of food ranging from basic sushi rolls and dumplings to lettuce wraps.
A couple of friends (@SocialSara612 and @katie_LF) met me at the Southdale location to check it out.
The Blushing Geisha is not going to be one of my favorite cocktails. Besides the name, there are chia seeds sprinkled on top. Still, I’ve paid more money for worse drinks.
Why I ordered it? To see if I could say it with a straight face. Also someone once told me I was a geisha in my past life.
We shared the crab wontons, spicy tuna roll, eggrolls, fried calamari & vegetables and often-mentioned chicken lettuce wraps. This was plenty of food to share between us three.
At the worst, a couple of the appetizers were unremarkable but perfectly decent. The chicken lettuce wraps stood out in terms of flavor, and arrived in a generous portion. Iceberg lettuce leaves are served alongside crispy cellophane noodles and a big pile of savory minced chicken, water chestnuts, and mushrooms with a special sauce. I can see why there are so many copycat recipes. It’s a good dish!
The spicy tuna roll was quite OK and the fried calamari had a pleasing salt and pepper-like seasoning. Most of the apps came with their own sauces.
I wouldn’t go out of my way for happy hour at P.F. Chang’s but I certainly wouldn’t avoid it. If someone invited me, I would go and may or may not even coordinate a shopping trip around being in the general vicinity prior to 6 p.m. on a weekday.
My friends’ thoughts are that happy hour is a good value. If you are in the mood for a Chinese buffet, though, you should probably start there.
You can do a lot worse than drinking a sweet $6 cocktail, eating fried crab wontons, and making your own lettuce wraps served by nice people.
Feel free to share your thoughts below. What chain restaurant are you curious about?