PF Chang's China Bistro, one of Americas largest Chinese restaurant chains, has 217 branches worldwide, serves at least 900,000 guests a week, and gives out about 48 million fortune cookies in a year. But despite these impressive numbers, it will probably surprise you that there's zero PF Chang's in Asia until yesterday, January 19, when the first Philippine branch officially opened their doors to the public. Its founder Philip Chiang flew in for the media- packed launch held at PF Chang's Alabang Town Center.
It All Started With The Lettuce Wraps
“I was born in Shanghai, raised in Tokyo, and grew up in San Francisco,” Philip declared in his American accent. His mother Cecilia Chiang, 94 years of age at present, opened a restaurant called 'The Mandarin' when their family migrated to America. “She missed the food of Northern China, that's why she opened her own” he recalled.
According to him, one dish stood out from among the many 'The Mandarin' served. “It was the lettuce wraps-- a Cantonese dish. It's part of the special menu because it's made of minced squab (pigeon). And those are tiny. You can only make so much in one pigeon,” Philip related. Her mother eventually became very popular for this. “I adapted the recipe and changed it to chicken because pigeons aren't as plenty.”
Chang's Chicken Lettuce Wraps
Years after, a fellow restaurateur by the name of Paul Fleming (the 'PF' in PF Chang's), approached Philip and sought help for a contemporary Chinese restaurant he was planning. The two collaborated and in 1993, they opened the first branch of P.F. in Arizona. But of course, Chang's Chicken Lettuce Wraps (P285) was included in the menu.
Love at First Bite
The Chicken Lettuce Wrap's success launched a hundred branches across America afterwards. But did you know that it was also the reason why PF Chang's opened in the Philippines? “I was smitten. I normally don't like Chinese food but the one I had at PF Chang's was different,” Archie Rodriguez, franchisee and President of Global Restaurants Concepts Inc., enthused.
But according to Archie, there's a whole lot more in the menu that's praise-worthy. “Even I haven't tasted everything yet. There are a lot, I'll tell you. And each time I eat something new, I gain a new favorite,” he continued.
Northern Style Spareribs
The menu is indeed lengthy but there's always the cheery wait staff who are quick to help. For jolting appetizers, one can have the extra-tender Northern Style Spareribs (P650) or the tongue-numbing Dynamite Shrimps (P285). The marinated, braised then deep fried ribs was nominated by the table as the best bet for “pulutan” (beer-match). The shrimps fell into second place because some were sensitive to its heat.
For kid-friendly appetizers, you can opt for a plate of Dumplings (P255), which are closely like Japanese gyozas or Crispy Wontons (P165)-- your standard Chinese starters.
Chang's Spicy Chicken
For their mains, PF Chang's take pride in their sweet and tender Mongolian Beef (P695), Chang's Spicy Chicken (P320), which isn't too spicy, and Shrimp with Candied Walnuts (P795), which is punctuated by the saccharine honeydew melon balls.
No MSG, Vegetarian-friendly, and Gluten-free
“My food is simple. I don't garnish my dishes. There's not one ingredient that's unnecessary in there,” Philip declared. Based from what has been served during the launch, the simplicity philosophy was apparent. One dish after the other, the wait staff gathered the serving plates almost licked-clean.
But more importantly, what sets PF Chang's apart from the other Chinese restaurants is its flexibility to cater to different nutritional needs. “We don't use MSG, for one” Archie swore. According to him, there's also a page-long menu for gluten-free diet practitioners, and half a page for vegetarians. “We cook their dishes in separate woks and stations,” Philip assured.
Just when you thought that Manila had seen enough Chinese concept restaurants, PF Chang's enters the dining scene with the promise of a unique bistro experience. Have a taste of any of PF Chang's cooked to order dishes and discover why it topped Zagat's Most Popular Full Survey Chain or why Hollywood stars like John Travolta, Gwen Stefani, Justin Bieber, and Selena Gomez patronize the restaurant.