As public service, we’re just going to say it.
No matter what you’ve heard, it’s not THAT good.
On the Border, though good, is not THAT good. P.F. Chang’s, though good, is not THAT good. Listen: People — perfectly sane and rational people — are waiting sometimes as long as two hours to get a table at P.F. Chang’s (though they could call an hour or so ahead and make reservations, for lunch or dinner, and wait five minutes). That’s 7,200 seconds of their precious, irretrievable lives.
No place is THAT good. A last meal on Death Row isn’t good enough to warrant a two-hour wait. When you die, and go to heaven, and St. Peter ushers you into a window seat at the swankiest restaurant in the Great Beyond — the place where the everlasting spirit of Julia Child has just enough culinary talent to get a job washing dishes — the food STILL ain’t going to be good enough to warrant a two-hour wait.
Let’s all just pray that Copeland’s never comes to Little Rock. It’ll be a riot. It’ll be a massacre. People will be crying and screaming and begging God to pull some strings and get them in for a second so they can have just a smell of the sweet manna from heaven that is Copeland’s food.
Now, all this is not to say that P.F. Chang’s isn’t good. With fresh ingredients, minute attention to detail, a snazzy decor and a smart, attentive, well-trained staff, it was one of the best meals we’ve had in some time, not to mention the best Asian-themed meal. But if Jesus Himself asked us to wait two hours for a seat at the Last Supper, we’d… well, you get our drift.
The menu at P.F. Chang’s, the latest big-name chain to enter the Little Rock market, is typical of such upscale restaurants, with a long list of items and something for everyone. Prices were upscale, too, with most appetizers north of $7 and most entrees topping $10 at lunch.
From the list of a dozen appetizers, we tried the Peking dumplings ($4.95) and the Chang’s chicken lettuce wraps ($6.95). Although the dumplings were pretty standard (though tasty), the lettuce wraps set the stage nicely, with a sheaf of crisp lettuce leaves and a large portion of spicy chicken stir-fried with nuts and crispy noodles. Both were soon devoured.
Looking over the big menu of chicken, seafood, lamb, pork and beef dishes, our waiter helpfully steered us toward certain items and away from others, a knowledgeable rarity in this day and age. He flat-out said about one, “I wouldn’t order that.” No kidding. We tried the Orange Peel Chicken ($11.50), while Companion tried the crispy honey shrimp ($12.95). In lieu of the steamed rice that comes with both dishes, we upgraded to chicken fried rice ($6.95).
While we waited we both had to comment on the iced tea, which is billed on the menu as “China Mist.” Available both sweetened and unsweetened, it was some of the best iced tea we’ve had in years, with what seemed to be refreshing hints of mint and citrus — somehow extra-refreshing on a stick-to-the-asphalt-hot day. We kept our cheerful waiter rushing back and forth to the bar to keep our glasses full.
Soon, our meals arrived, served in large, communal bowls. Though the kitchen had accidentally sent out crispy honey chicken instead of shrimp, it smoothed things over when the manager stopped by to say he’d put a rush order on the shrimp and that we could keep the chicken.
All in all, everything was tasty, especially the shrimp when it arrived (though not too late — the manager was apparently as good as his word on that rush order, even with the place packed for lunchtime). Large, covered in a lemony glaze — though not as crispy or as honey-sweet tasting as they should have been (Jasmine’s version in Chenal is better) — the shrimp made a fine and hearty meal when paired with P.F. Chang’s flavorful fried rice. As for the orange peel chicken, it was fine as well, with red peppers and a careful blend of sweet, sour and spicy. The complaint we had against it, however, is a common one for us when eating chain-restaurant food: for something marked “spicy” in the menu, it wasn’t spicy enough by half. Then again, they can’t very well put something on the menu that will give Grandma the vapors, can they?
All in all, P.F. Chang’s is a fine little place to go for some Far East grub. Though we once thought that Chinese food was Chinese food, there is something to be said for attention to detail — a difference in the flavor that you’re just not going to get from an all-u-kin-eat steam table. In short, they’re good.
Just not that good.
317 S. Shackleford Road
Those of the age of majority might try something from P.F. Chang’s long, long list of cocktails. Some — like Buddha’s Dream (Bacardi rum, vanilla ice cream, coconut, bananas, pineapple and grenadine) — sound like decadent delights.
11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Sunday.
Moderate to expensive prices. Credit cards accepted. Reservations strongly recommended. Full bar and wine list.