“So, what did you think of your first experience at PF Changs?”
It was the 64,000 Riyal question and one every food blogger dreads. Especially when posed by the man he founded the restaurant himself. Both Phillip Chiang and his international marketing director had me in a spot.
Since opening two weeks ago, the Doha branch is serving around 1500 customers a day with people waiting up to an hour for a table (the only thing I would line up for is an ABBA reunion and that ain’t happening until Annafried says so). There have been some social media reports about poor service and spotty food (addressed by the team at our dinner and fairly branded as opening “teething problems), but yet they keep coming.
The restaurant sits in the consumer space also occupied by fellow cult outlet, The Cheesecake Factory. Insiders call it “Casual Plus” – causal dining but with more class and a higher price tag. Better ingredients and a better experience.
Such is the cult following that PF Changs generates that there have been social media postings for months updating people about the progress of this outlet.
There were even some starry eyed bloggers among the brethren seated at the media event I attended.
Only I remained a skeptic. An aggressive skeptic at that.
My fork was posed mid-air over something called “Banana Spring Rolls” (more of that later).
“Look,” I said. “I wanted to hate this place.”
I honestly did. I was prepared to take it down. I have an aversion to chain restaurants and I had this pegged in the same box.
I explained that all my North American friends spoke of this chain with messianic fervor. And in that true “travel tosser” way, explained I had visited China, eaten some awesome food and also being from the Asian influenced city if Sydney, I kinda knew what good Chinese food was.
We were given a tour of the menu including their most popular items. The chicken lettuce cup (the food snob in me says it’s San Choi Bow, but hey when in Rome/Los Angeles/etc) is worldwide their biggest seller. Served with three dipping sauces including a chilli hit. Phillip (as he likes to be called) said customers have tended towards spicier foods in recent years and the sauce added the heat I also required.
The star attraction for the night was Dynamite Shrimp which the team admits is a Middle Eastern phenomenon. Since opening 11500 servings of this dish have been produced.
From my perspective it ticks my culinary boxes – sweet and savory, seafood and deep fried. And, served in a martini glass.
I could have done with a little less sauce, but in terms of taste and serving size, this is a winner.
My other standout dish was the dumplings – which come with meat, seafood or vegetarian. I consider myself a bit of a dumpling expert (a four day trip to Shanghai being my only qualification) and these passed muster.
Other dishes included a pretty tasty Mongolian Beef, which is a sweet, soy-glazed flank steak wok-seared with scallions and garlic. I didn’t admit that I had used a rip-off of this recipe to make something similar at home recently.
I asked Phillip Chiang if they used MSG and he emphatically said no and they also make every effort to source ingredients that don’t use this additive.
The Kung Pao chicken (which I have only ever had in the US) was described as spicy Sichuan chili sauce with peanuts, celery, scallions and red chili peppers. For me it was heavy on the peanuts and light on the spicy.
Meanwhile the Pad Thai (the chain bills itself as pan-Asian) was tasty, the noodles cooked well and pretty close to accurate in terms of flavor. I was also pleased to see they didn’t fall into the trap of swamping it with gluggy tamarind paste and calling it Thai.
I don’t really do dessert, but I do do ice cream (that’s another post). I passed on the Great Wall of Chocolate (I’ve been to the actual Great Wall of China, chocolate may have helped deal with the hordes of tourists) and sampled the previously mentioned Banana Spring Rolls. These reminded me of the battered and deep fried bananas of my Australian childhood. that’s a great memory.
Back to that “gotcha!” moment every food blogger hates.
I put down my fork, moved the banana spring rolls closer to me so no one else got to touch them, and made an admission.
“Actually,” I said. “I have really enjoyed my first PF Changs experience.”
Admittedly it was a media event in the private dining area and at that point I felt like an engorged Beluga whale after having sampled 10 different dishes.My only issue (and this was so which much of the menu), is that they could dial down the salt quotient. I woke this morning with a raging thirst (for water as opposed to for vengeance).
But the food, I have to admit, was well presented, fresh and yes, even tasty. This isn’t food that pushes boundaries, rather it’s comfortable and accessible.
As I left at 830pm on a Monday night in Doha (past this old woman’s bed time), there were several people patiently waiting to be seated.
That speaks volumes.
PF Changs Doha
Opposite Food Court, Villaggio, Al Waab, Doha
*Life on the Wedge was a guest of PF Changs Doha