Charming food chain
Reno, NV 89511
My old friend Pam and her fiancé, Byron, were coming up to Reno from Palo Alto for a visit. We’d been planning to eat at the new P.F. Chang’s China Bistro in Reno since it opened nearly a month ago, but they decided not to brave the pass due to bad weather. Nevertheless, we found a way to dine together: Michael and I dined in Reno; they dined at the P.F. Chang’s in Palo Alto.
After dinner, we all waddled to our respective houses, and kibitzed into the night about our collective first-time experience at a P.F. Chang’s. Byron, with his jaded big-city palate (he’s from Los Angeles), said he liked the L.A. vibe from the moment he walked in.
Pam chimed in, “But with none of that offensive L.A. pretense.” The restaurant is L.A. slick, but not to the point of being intimidating. A chorus of design elements works well with a museum-quality display of Asian objects.
We’d agreed to order the same dishes in advance, so we all started with the chicken lettuce wrap ($6.50), P.F. Chang’s big hit, which is a pile of fresh, crispy iceberg lettuce and a plate of seasoned, bite-sized chicken. To assemble, you simply fill the lettuce cups with the chicken and eat it like a taco. Then you spoon on a special sauce, prepared at the table by your server.
“I love those things!” Pam said giddily. “The lettuce around the warm meat is like a cool sheet on a hot summer night.”
Our other appetizer, the salt and pepper calamari ($6.95), was a perfect clean canvas for trying all the accoutrements on the table: the chili paste, hot mustard, chili oil and vinegar.
Our entrées, and there were a lot of them, began with Mongolian beef ($11.95) which was cooked to perfection and served with good-sized slices of scallions and either traditional white, or yummy, nutty brown, rice.
Pam, with her timid palate, was hesitant about ordering the shrimp with lobster sauce ($11.95), but she was pleased by the subtle flavor of the dish. Everything was cooked till just done—the chef at P.F. Chang’s knows when to take food off the fire.
The Cantonese chow fun was perfect for Pam’s palate, too, although she couldn’t eat the Sichuan Style Asparagus ($5.95); it had a lot of heat to it. She missed out on some of the best asparagus I’ve ever had. The edges were seared and the stalks were cooked and crunchy.
For dessert, Michael and I had the warm macadamia nut pie ($4.95), which is much like pecan pie but with macadamia nuts, and the banana spring rolls ($3.95). In this dessert, bananas are wrapped in wonton leaves, deep-fried and served with coconut-pineapple ice cream and then drizzled with caramel and vanilla sauces.
Our server, Katie, was great, and not just because she gave us a huge scoop of ice cream. Everyone working for P.F. Chang’s hustles their butts—they have to! Katie was there when we needed her and out of sight when we didn’t. She was pleasant and honest in her recommendations.
The battle of the desserts was won in Palo Alto, according to Pam and Byron, who ordered the six-layer, extremely decadent “Great Wall of Chocolate” ($6.95).
At the end of our conversation, Pam reiterated that new restaurants worry her because they try to get attention with out-of-the-ordinary flavors and "weird concoctions." P.F. Chang’s has a winning modus operandi.