Review of the New and Improved P.F. Chang’s
New location at the Irvine Spectrum brings improved menu and dining room
I had the pleasure of being invited to the soft opening of the P.F. Chang’s at the Irvine Spectrum, which has a revamped Pan-Asian menu and completely remodeled interior. This event was very exciting to attend as I was able to chat with some of the major players of the restaurant chain including, Mr. Philip Chiang, for whom the restaurant get its name.
New Interior at P.F. Chang’s Irvine Spectrum
The restaurant pulled no punches in revamping this restaurant, literally from the ground up. The Irvine P.F. Chang now has a very modern and vibrant design, with a wide open floor plan
and high ceilings. The space has a very airy feeling that is accentuated by the seamless transition from dinning room to outside patio via open space.
From the inside of the restaurant, you can see the lights and kinetic energy of the Irvine Spectrum center; yet, you are insulated in the coziness of the restaurant. A perfect addition to restaurant is the large open air wrap around patio, which is ideal for Southern California evenings. The patio was set up for socializing with lounge chairs, space heaters and conversation pits; the patio almost reminded us of a Las Vegas bottle service area. I foresee this location becoming one of the hipper meetup spots in Orange County.
When we walked into the restaurant we were greeted by the a troop of cocktail servers, who were offering three exciting new signature “Tiki Cocktails.” The bartender explained that all the new signature cocktails are made from whole fruits that are juiced in-house, to ensure freshness and retention of the fruit’s natural flavors. My favorite drink was the “Tequila Tai Punch”, which was made with El Tesoro Platinum Tequila, fresh juiced pineapple, lime and cranberry juice; all elements were shaken with a sweet agave nectar. I was a little dubious about drinking a tequila cocktail, but when I took my first sip I sold.
P.F. Chang’s Cocktails
Speaking of drinks and cocktails, P.F. Chang’s has expanded their beverage menu to be very wine friendly by offering around 60 bottles of wine and 45 selections of wine by the glass. The wine list was very balanced between approachable to higher end. For example, on the lower end, the list featured a delicious Brandcott Sauvignon Blanc ($23); at the higher end, the wine list featured an exciting bottle of Leonetti Merlot ($92). The new beverage menu also included a respectable selection of imported and craft beer , including Deschutes, Good Island, and North Coast.
New P.F. Chang’s Dishes
During the soft opening preview, we were served some of P.F. Chang’s newer dishes to highlight their new Pan-Asain theme. We were presented with five courses starting from small plates, to appetizers, to main dishes and ending with dessert. This blog will chronicle my impressions of each of these dishes.
Bang Bang Chicken Flatbread
This is a scallion encrusted flatbread that is topped with a woked combination of chicken, shiitake mushrooms, water chestnuts, and a subtly spicy broad bean sauce. This wonderfully sweet and spicy combination is spread over the scallion flatbread and topped with cilantro and tingly spicy chili mayo. One of my favorite elements of this dish was the scallion infused flavor of the flatbread.
The flatbread mellowed out some of the flavors and spiciness of the Bang Bang Chicken, such that the combination resulted in a mellow tingle on the tongue.
Kashmir Wok-Seard Lamb
This is a wonderful play on a “Mongolian” style dish, but with a Kashmir twist. For those you who can’t place Kashmir on a map, it sits at the intersection of India, China and Pakistan and is known for their use of rich and aromatic cooking herbs. This dish consisted of a bowl of woked ground lamb, carrots, red onions and masala spices. When I smelled the dish, the aromas sent my imagination flowing and my mouth salivating. The flavors conjured images of hiking in the Kashmir valley and dining with the locals. This dish was served with the bread cakes made with the same scallion infused dough as the flatbread. The Kashmir Wok-Seared Lamb was only my second dish of the evening, but I could not stop eating it! My server even came by to say, “Hey Buddy you better slow down, you have a whole lot more food coming tonight.”
Paired Cocktail: Carrot Canton
This cocktail features fresh house squeezed carrot juice, mixed with Domaine de Canton liqueur. This ginger liqueur contains syrup from crystalized baby ginger, grand Champagne VSOP cognac, orange blossom honey, and vanilla. The sweetness of the fresh carrot juiced blended well with the sweet, spicy and pungent flavor of the ginger liqueur and provide a well-balanced and refreshing cocktail. Since this drink is made from freshly juiced whole carrots, you can feel good about getting your vitamins …even though it is infused with alcohol ;). This cocktail blended very nicely with the rich herbal and aromatic flavors of the Bang Bang Chicken Flatbread and Kashmir Lamb pockets.
Shrimp and Bacon Okonomiyaki
This dish consists of a series of bacon wrapped jumbo shrimps, which appeared to have been flash fried and served with woked cabbage and scallions. This dish is served with Japanese mayo, tonkatsu sauce (sweet, spicy and tangy sauce) and sprinkled with Sichimi Togarashi ( a Japanese dry seasoning meaning “Seven Flavor Chilli pepper”, which has flavors of chili, ginger and citrus). The namesake of this dish, “Okonomiyaki”, loosely means “Having it your way” in Japanese. I can easily understand the name of this dish, because having a dish my way usually involves adding bacon. The Shrimp and Bacon Okonomiyaki is wonderfully balanced dish, that brings together several dominate flavors and textures into a playful dance on the tongue and comfort to my soul.
Sizzling Black Iron Mussels
This was perhaps one of my favorite and dramatic dishes of the evening. This dish consisted of a sizzling hot black iron skillet filled to the brim with Prince Edward Island (PEI) mussels. As the server carried the dish from the kitchen to my tables, it spewed steam and aromatics across the dining room. The mussels were served and infused with ginger, mild Fresno chilis, garlic and aromatic black bean butter. This was a very exciting dish both to eat and experience. if you like mussels, I highly recommend order this dish at least once.
Paired Cocktail: Wild Tea Gimlet: The before mentioned dishes were rich, lush and heavily flavored, so a cocktail is needed to refresh the palate. This drink is made with Absolute “Wild Tea” vodka (flavors of Chinese black tea, floral and citrus), St. Germain Liqueur ( French liqueur with floral notes derived from elder flowers), muddled with fresh sage leaves and lime juice. This drink was quite refreshing and reminded me of a sweetened ice tea with a kick.
Thai Noodle Chicken Salad
This was a lovely noodle salad comprised of rice noodles, shredded cabbage, and vegetables. This dish was mixed in with lemon grass infused chicken and tossed with a Thai peanut dressing. This dish included large leaves of iceberg lettuce, to serve as vehicle to deliver the yummy Thai noodle chicken salad to my mouth. This dish was light and pleasant to eat, perfect for a warm summer day or for fooling yourself after a workout at the gym.
Wine Accompaniment – Navarro Gewürztraminer (2009) – Medecino – This is a dry version of the typically sweeter German wine variety. This wine had a mild lychee bouquet and subtle hints of cinnamon. Although this is a dryer Gewürztraminer, it still had the right amount of sweetness to compliment the subtle spiciness of Asian dishes.
Singapore Black Pepper Prawns
This is a wonderful dish that uses massive unshelled prawn tails, that are woked in a “Classic Singaporean Black Pepper Glaze”. If you have ever been to Singapore, you might recognize this dish from the street Hawker Carts. The Executive Chef at P.F. Chang’s recreated this black pepper paste to suit American tastes, by notching down the spice. The resulting dish is very approachable and exciting dish that highlights the sweet protein of the shrimp, while allowing the flavors of pepper, ginger, slight hint of vinegar to flash-dance on your palate . The shrimp was cooked in its shell to help develop the flavor of its sweet flesh, the shell also helped to infuse the flavors of the shrimp into the black pepper glaze.
Lemon Scented Brussel Sprouts
Lemon Scented Brussel Sprouts are made with shaved Brussel sprouts woked with ginger, lemon zest, garlic, and Thai basil. The result is a sultry, yet healthy side dish that begs you to eat more and pairs wonderfully with the Singaporean Black Pepper Paste.
Sichuan Grilled Steak Frittes This dish consisted of a carved flank steak, rubbed with Sichuan spice and smothered in a black bean garlic scampi butter. In addition, this dish is accompanied by crispy sesame tossed shoe string fries. This dish reminded me of a Chinese take on Argentine Steak Chimichuri. The flavor of this dish was very lush and savory from the garlic black bean butter and accented the natural flavors of the flank steak. The steak was cooked to a perfect medium (pink throughout) and was pleasurable to chew. The only thing I would add to this dish is a side of the yummy black bean scampi sauce to dip my fries.
Wine Accompaniment: Cru by Vineyard 29 Cabernet – 2009- Nappa (90 points) – This is an exciting new and high-end wine offering by P.F. Chang’s. The wine has aromas of Cassis, wild berries and a nose of coffee, cocoa, and huckleberry. This wine is meant to be paired with grilled and sauced steaks, as the lush and tannin balance helps cut through the red meat proteins, char, and butter based sauces.
My Final Thoughts
The changes to P.F. Chang’s, that I have outlined in this review represent a major refresh to the restaurant and more than enough to make me want to dine here very often. I was very excited about the new dishes and the broadening of their influence from Chinese cuisine, to a wider Pan-Asian influence. I thought that the new recipes were creative, fresh and blended traditional Asian recipes to fit the American palate.
In addition, the new beverage format has turned P.F. Chang’s to a destination for cocktails with their expanded wine selection, fresh juice cocktails and craft beers. Finally, the open air design and integrated open patio is ideal for the Southern California weather and has the potential to turn into a hot singles scene. Based on my impressions from the soft opening, I highly encourage any foodie to give the Irvine Spectrum P.F. Chang’s a visit and judge for yourself. The restaurant had a grand re-opening on 12/13/2011. Leave a comment if you recently visited the ne P.F. Chang’s and let me hear about your personal impressions.