So I’m contrary
I was at a national tournament once, in someplace like Cleveland or Kansas City or Birmingham, Alabama, and a group of us were going out to dinner. Somebody suggested a Chinese place, and I just flat refused–I live in the Bay Area, where we get the best Chinese food in the country, if not the world, and can’t imagine looking for great Mongolian beef in a town famous for chili with cheese, or ribs, or the production of steel.
I thought of this today while eating lunch at P. F. Chang’s. Why, in an area full of fantastic, genuine Chinese food, does this monument to homogenized, de-fanged, commercialized, middle of the road, mass produced blandness not only exist, but get to charge premium prices for sub-adequate food?
P. F. Chang’s is a high-volume mass merchandiser of middle of the road food for people who don’t really know or like good Chinese cuisine. They have systems and accountants and process engineers and a human resources department. They don’t have a ounce of Asian soul.
We were met at the door by a young woman who demanded to know my name to write on the check, then called me “Chris”. Okay, so I”m an incipient old fart, but I don’t need some 23 year old who doesn’t know me addressing me by my first name. She also had the headset to her phone hanging out of her ear, so she could ignore people in the most professional way possible. We were led to a table by the back wall; Gail was sitting on a banquette that was a good 3 inches too low for the table–who designs these places? We moved to a table with two decent chairs.
The service is very good–profit maximization requires turning the tables quickly. A very nice young woman (much more pleasant than the hostess) took our orders, advised on which of the rib dishes we would prefer, and got things moving.
The food comes out quickly. We started with the hot and sour soup. It was thick and sweet, with a rich strong base utterly unlike any hot and sour soup I’ve ever had, and not in a good way. The ribs Gail ordered were indeed interesting, but not great.
It was when Gail’s pan fried noodles arrived that I knew we were in deep trouble. Whatever they were, they sure weren’t like the Hong Kong style noodles you can get all over, and not an improvement, either.
I had orange peel beef, which had a great orange peel flavor in a too-thick sauce on over-cooked beef.
They refilled my iced tea quickly.
The bill for this no very fancy and not very good lunch was $67, including one glass of wine. Almost $80 with tip. At least twice what a much better meal at Yan’s China bistro, or the Green Garden, or almost anywhere in Oakland Chinatown, would cost.
Still, there they are. Right smack dab in downtown WC, across from Nordstrom and behind Neiman Marcus. People flock in their door all day and night. Clearly, they have the formula to bring in the masses. That doesn’t make the food any better, and I’m still contrary and difficult. But I know good Chinese food when I see it, and I didn’t see any today.