REVIEW: PF Chang's China Bistro

PF Chang's China Bistro

A few months ago a PF Chang's China Bistro opened in my area (Albany, NY). I had been meaning to stop in for dinner but never got around to it. Finally, thanks to a friend's birthday, I had a chance to enjoy dinner at PF Chang's.

Wait! Am I already giving away the review? I said "enjoy." Does that spoil it for you? I'm sorry! But I really can't contain myself. I was so pleased by the food--and the service-- we received at PF Chang's that I will tell you upfront: dinner was great. Now let me tell you why.

You know how nerve-racking it is to go out to dinner, right? You worry about cross contamination, the server not "getting it," only having steamed veggies and baked chicken to eat. The list of worries goes on and on and on. So, while I was excited to go to PF Chang's, I was a little nervous.

Two days before we were schedule to eat dinner (on a busy Friday, no less), I called the restaurant. "Hello." I said. "I will be dining with you on Friday night and I need a gluten-free menu. Is this a problem?"

I was quickly assured that it was not a problem and was instructed to tell the hostess when I arrived that I needed the gluten-free menu. The hostess sounded like she was very familiar with the gluten-free menu. I was pleased.

On Friday afternoon, I called the restaurant again. Again I gave my little spiel about needing a gluten-free menu and this is what the host said:

"Gluten-free menu? No problem. We have a full menu for people with Celiac disease or wheat-allergies, not just a few things. On the gluten-free menu there are appetizers, main courses and even dessert. The soy sauce at the table is not gluten-free. Just ask your server to bring you gluten-free soy sauce. We have it in the kitchen. Also, in the kitchen, we have separate woks for the gluten-free foods. You can even go on-line to look at the gluten-free menu before you get here. Oh, and people who order off the gluten-free menu seem to really like 'Chang's Chicken.' Can I help you with anything else?"

At this point, my mouth was hanging open. A host at a restaurant used the words "Celiac" and "full menu" and "gluten-free soy sauce." I thanked him for being so knowledgeable about the gluten-free menu and hung up. At this point, I was feeling really, really excited about the evening.

We arrived and the place was packed. I don't often eat in chain restaurants; so, I was taken back by how big it was. Many people were enjoying dinner and many others were waiting. Since we had reservations, we were seated right away.

I told the hostess that I needed a gluten-free menu and she didn't look at me like I had two heads. She just walked to the front of the restaurant and grabbed me one. The host that I had spoken to earlier in the day was right! This was a full menu.

Our waiter quickly appeared and I told him about my gluten-free needs. He had no problem with it and didn't mix up the table condiments because the soy sauce contained gluten! He even went into the kitchen and brought out extra spoons for the condiments. I did not request the gluten-free soy sauce because, honestly, intense blasts of soy bother my allergies. So, no gluten-free soy sauce was brought to the table.

We ordered drinks and looked at the menu. My friend, the birthday girl, wanted to order the lettuce wraps. Yay! They were on the gluten-free menu. Since the appetizer sounded "cool," I wanted something spicy to follow it up. The Chang's Chicken (described as "PF Chang's version of General Chu's Chicken") looked like it would fit the bill.

When we ordered, the server said, "Would you like the lettuce wraps gluten-free?" I love that he said this! Since the lettuce wraps appeared on both the traditional and gluten-free menu, it would have been easy for him to make a mistake. He carefully took the rest of the order the same way.

The lettuce wraps arrived. My friend had been telling me about them for weeks. She claimed they were beyond good. I couldn't wait to try them. What arrived at our table was a round dish filled with a yummy chicken filling over a bed of fried rice noodles. On a separate plate were whole iceberg lettuce leafs. This allowed everyone to make their own lettuce wrap. Honestly, the filling didn't look too exciting. However, the taste was amazing. Spicy and salty (in this case, salty in a good way, like potato chips are salty.) the chicken wraps were a pleasant surprise.

My too-polite friend eyed the plate when it first arrived. I could tell from her expression and her reaction to eating the wraps that the gluten-free version must taste different from the traditional version. I tried to get her to elaborate. She didn't. All she said was, "These are good." I meant to ask her later about the wraps but I forgot. The reason it was easy to forget to follow-up was because the wraps were delicious. I highly recommend them.

Our main-dishes arrived. At PF Chang's they encourage everyone to eat family style. This doesn't really work when you have someone with special dietary needs at the table. At our meal, no one shared.

My Chang's Chicken looked good but odd. Everyone else at the table had rectangular plates. My plate was round. Before I could even ask about this, the server said, "And the gluten-free meal is on the round plate." How great is that? They serve gluten-free dinners on different plates! Very cool. (As we left the restaurant later that night, I was looking around to see how many other round plates there were in the dining room. I didn't see any, sadly.)

For me, General Chu's chicken is a deep fried chicken with a dark, sweet and spicy sauce. The plate before me looked like the sauce was made from honey not molasses. I took a bite. Wow! Was it spicy and sweet and crunchy! It was love at first bite. One of my favorite things about Asian cuisine is the play on different tastes and textures. This dish was both sweet and hot. Wonderful! I loved it. I ordered a bowl of white rice as a side dish. The rice was a nice foil to the spiciness of the chicken.

Everyone at the table was full from dinner. Therefore, we passed on dessert. (Although the gluten-free chocolate dome sounded good!)

My experience was so great that I almost floated out of the restaurant. I will be going back to PF Chang's and I hope to have as safe an experience.

If you have a PH Chang's in your area, check them out. Of course, call before you go as each restaurant will differ. I can honestly say that the PF Chang's in Albany, NY knows how to serve a gluten-free meal.

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