PF Chang’s is coming to Canada starting in Toronto. If you have a time share in the US and have a love on for the prosaic, chances are you have been waiting a long time for this; the king of American Chinese food is finally here. You no longer have to fly all the way to a big box mall in Phoenix, you can now sit in DVP traffic or take a very inaccessible TTC ride and be there in a bit more than half the time!
The new space in Shops at Don Mills, which seems to be the new 905er dress up and drink Labatt owned imports destination is clean and predictable. Dimly lit, faux fancy, vaguely Asian, and very much a place following corporate design directives. The chairs are comfortable and you have a choice of forks or chopsticks when you dine to the sweet musical sounds of Colby Caillat. In the summer you can sit out on a nice, sizable patio overlooking a quad that is home to children on big wheels and senior citizen’s musings about the old days when they could buy a bag of milk for a dollar and a quarter at the old ‘Dominion Store’ and eat a top drawer Liver and Onions at Diana Sweets.
Founder Philip Chang was there to talk to us about his aristocratic ancestry and second-generation restaurant pedigree. His mom was basically royalty who opened the first mainland Chinese place in North America; ‘ The Mandarin’ in Bev Hills. No affiliation with the Canadian gluttony mecca. That, it turns out was, in true Chinese tradition, a brilliant reverse engineering job.
I have been to mainland China where I ate a great deal of mystery foods, none of which resemble the items listed at PF Chang’s. The menu covers all your deep fried mall food court favorites like a zesty lemon chicken and vegetable Lo Mein and then adds some more modern sit down classics such as a seared Ahi Tuna that tasted fresh and mustardy. The food, while fun and palatable like most sugary, salty, oily foods, was about as Chinese as Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Chang’s signature dish is a Chicken lettuce wrap served with a trio of sauces including a mustard that gave a very un-American kick and balanced out the salt in the minced meat that is likely based on Mu –Shoo chicken. PF Chang’s second best seller is Mongolian Beef. In addition to taking liberties with Chinese borders it is a sinewy beef dish with in a thick translucent brown sauce that makes you feel like you do when you eat candy; shameful, thinking about the gym, and addicted.
The Canadian operator of the chain spent a lot of time letting us know that they accommodate the vegetarian gluten free set but had no idea where their meat was sourced. If he watched Portlandia he would know that today we want to know how our meat was treated, what it ate, and who its best friend was. Appeasing Celiacs is no longer on trend and just an expectation, unless of course you go the arrogant route and serve it all unwaveringly, as is.
If you are looking for Christmas holidays in Ft. Lauderdale with Bubby and Zaidy nostalgia, or a hit of comforty food and reasonable value, check this place out. If you are looking for something unique with a bit of a scene wait for a day when you are in one of the above moods or yourself a Bubby/ Zaidy in order to avoid disappointment.
Tamara Junkin is a Toronto writer, observer, traveller and wine enthusiast. She is obsessed with food and animals and is currently trying to figure out life without the two being diabolically opposed. Tamara is equally passionate in her hatred for eggs and feta cheese as is she about her love for fresh Passionfruit and hot sauce. She fears no scovall unit and has twice turned purple as a result. Over the years her love of playing sports has rewarded her with a storage room drawer full of ‘participant’ medals. You can check out her sardonic blog about nothing in particular at junkinsays.tumblr.com