P.F. Chang's China Bistro

Special to The Idaho StatesmanJanuary 27, 2006 

— As evidenced by the packed reservation book at P.F. Chang's China Bistro, this corporate Chinese restaurant has been a big hit in Boise so far.

P.F. Chang's, which opened Oct. 31 in BoDo, has enjoyed much popularity in other cities across America. The Arizona-based chain has more than 125 restaurants nationwide.

But if you want to eat at P.F. Chang's in Boise, especially at night, you had better make reservations a few days in advance.

The dining room is stylishly dark, with large theater mirrors and orange light gels that hang from the ceiling, looking like oversized water lily pads on an upside-down pond.

Two giant stone steeds stand outside, keeping watch over the front entrance in Tang Dynasty fashion.

The menu draws influences from China's five culinary regions, as well as parts of Southeast Asia — it's pan-Asian fare with corporate sensibilities.

On a lunch visit, we started with Shanghai street dumplings ($5.95); four doughy pillows (think dim sum) filled with gingery shredded chicken and scallion. I could eat these dumplings all day. They're seared on the backside and served with vinegar-kicked sweet chili dipping sauce.

Even though the wonton soup ($5.50) had entirely too much white pepper, the large bowl (enough for two people) showed promise with its light chicken broth pocked with plump shrimp, diced chicken breast, sliced mushrooms, spinach leaves and silky wonton pouches stuffed with ground pork and scallion.

We then shifted gears into entrée mode with orders of wok-seared lamb ($12.95) and double pan-fried noodles ($8.95), a heap of crunchy stir-fried egg noodles, entangled with tender pork shreds (in our case), wood mushrooms, celery, carrot and onion, in seasoned soy sauce. The residual was overly salty, though, leaving us reaching for our water glasses.

Next up were toothsome pieces of marinated lamb (wok-seared and served on a bed of shredded iceberg) topped with fresh cilantro sprigs and toasted black sesame seeds. The smoky lamb was mostly tender save an occasional piece of gristle.

During a dinner visit, a few nights later, we prefaced our entrees with Northern-style spare ribs ($6.95) and vegetarian lettuce wraps ($6.95), a roll-your-own appetizer consisting of iceberg lettuce cups and a pile of fried tofu cubes mingled with fresh mint, water chestnut, red onion, garlic and crispy bean thread noodles drenched in a dark sauce. It was a refreshingly crisp starter, albeit a little salty on the finish.

Six pork spare ribs came crisscrossed on a plate next to a ramekin of spiced salt. The rib meat was nearly falling off the bone and had a subtle allspice backbeat, pairing well with a glass of Mirassou Pinot Noir ($6), a medium-bodied wine from California's Monterey County.

Chang's lemon scallops ($12.25) and Cantonese roasted duck ($13.95) were our chosen entrees.

We were happy with both dishes, especially the roasted duck served with doughy wheat buns, scallion confetti and julienne cucumber.

It was like build-your-own dim sum. We just grabbed some tender duck meat (breast and leg) and crispy skin and stuffed it in the warm buns. The end result was simply delicious, with sweet hoisin and spicy plum dipping sauces there for embellishment.

Equally as good were the wok-seared scallops, sweet from the sea, mixed with thin slices of lemon and scallion in a corn starch-thickened lemon sauce.

The scallops came with overly dry steamed white rice. Thankfully, perfectly cooked chewy brown rice was there, too.

I would be remiss not to mention the friendly and extremely helpful service at P.F. Chang's — it's obvious that wait staff training is not an afterthought.

In a lychee nutshell, P.F. Chang's is a welcome newcomer to Boise's dining scene.

James Patrick Kelly is The Idaho Statesman's restaurant critic. E-mail him at jpkfood@ earthlink.net.

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