Just when you think you’ve sampled the entire Chinese culinary experience at P.F. Chang’s, the popular bistro comes up with a brand-new cooking style. Well, actually, these “new” items - which are exciting enough to warrant a separate menu - are really extremely ancient, but they’re new to P.F. Chang’s large local customer base.
The concept is as simple as low-flame grilling, and this style has been around in China since the Chou Dynasty, when all the cooking was done over an open fire. The Chinese created harmonious flavor combinations with ingredients that were blended and marinated before being gently cooked over a low flame.
The cuisine is known as Xiao Huo, and the chefs at P.F. Chang’s went to China to perfect the cooking style and integrate it into their contemporary chain of restaurants.
Among these unique dishes is a Sichuan chicken flatbread ($7) that makes a perfect starter for any Chinese meal. The grilled flatbread is stuffed with Chinese scallions, Sichuan-marinated chicken and melted cheese. It is served with a creamy citrus mustard slaw, and it’s anything but ordinary.
One of the biggest stars on the new Xiao Huo menu is the lemongrass prawns with garlic noodles ($16). This delicate dish features grilled jumbo prawns brushed with herb-infused lemongrass butter. It is served over a bed of garlic noodles, and its appeal bridges the age gap. Even kids love the dish.
Wild Alaskan salmon gets a sprinkling of lemon wasabi oil before being grilled and served over steamed rice in a dish called citrus soy wild salmon ($17). Like many of these seafood items, the salmon is very lightly cooked. A citrus soy sauce completes this simple-but-elegant dish.
Steak lovers can enjoy an Asian-marinated New York strip steak ($20) on this new menu. You get a 12-ounce strip, thinly sliced and served medium rare with a savory sesame soy sauce. The steak is served atop a bed of grilled bok choy.
There’s a glazed lamb chop dish ($17) to tempt you away from the tried and true. These flavorful chops are marinated in a special blend of spices, then grilled and served over field greens with a hint of lemon and mint.
P.F. Chang’s always prided itself in offering diners “a culinary journey.” The goal of the cuisine was to attain harmony in taste, texture, color and aroma by balancing the Chinese principles of fan and t’sai. The new menu is just an extension of that original objective.
You’ll still find dishes from all over China on the regular menu. Some of the regions represented include Canton, Shanghai and Mongolia, and most likely your favorite dishes are still offered. They could never eliminate old standards the likes of crab wontons ($7), Peking dumplings ($5.50), chicken or vegetarian lettuce wraps ($8 each), and other appetizers.
You’ll still find your favorite crispy honey chicken ($11), beef with broccoli ($11), Mongolian beef ($14), orange peel shrimp ($14), and P.F. Chang’s famous fried rice ($9.50 for the combo). The vegetable selections are also fantastic, especially the stir-fried eggplant ($7.50), spinach stir-fried with garlic ($5), and Sichuan-style asparagus ($6).
Desserts are a cut above the average Chinese restaurant. Here, you’ll find New York-style cheesecake ($6.50), flourless chocolate dome ($6), banana spring rolls ($6.50) and other temptations.
The decor is stunning. Larger-than-life sculpted stone horses flank the corners of the La Jolla location. The interior is striking as well, with floor-to-ceiling glass walls and attractive furnishings. The outdoor patio makes alfresco dining a delight, and the service is excellent wherever you choose to eat.
P.F. Chang’s is definitely a different breed of Chinese restaurant, with its contemporary ambiance and sophisticated bistro-style cuisine. Convenient valet service is available right outside the door, and you can make reservations in advance. That’s the most important thing to know, especially on busy weekends, so call well ahead to reserve a table.
P.F. Chang’s is at 4540 La Jolla Village Drive. Call (858) 458-9007.