Second Helpings

Second Helping

Just because you're not part of the problem doesn't mean you're part of the solution. I've become increasingly tired of Chinese restaurants claiming some sort of special capacity for greatness simply because they aren't part of a chain. Most independent Chinese joints offer food that's no more authentically Chinese than what I order from Little Panda or Panda Express or whatever chain outlets is nearby -- and often, it's less edible. You have to work for greatness and sometimes labor long before it comes.

After visiting Twin Dragon, a locally owned institution for three decades (see review, page 53), I decided to venture forth to that most bourgeois bastion of corporate Asiana: P.F. Chang's. At six o'clock on a Sunday night in the middle of a thunderstorm, the Park Meadows location was 100 percent committed, packed shoulder-to-shoulder and golf shirt-to-golf shirt with suburban egg-roll seekers. The bar was a riot of men in shorts and soccer moms getting crazy on custom Chinese margaritas and amaretto sours; on the floor, everyone was eating chicken and water chestnut lettuce wraps, dipping hand-made dumplings into tubs of awful soy sauce carbonated with scallions and ginger. Service was fast, cheerful and competent, with every order double- and triple-checked.

The kitchen at Chang's is a machine, pumping out plates by the thousands every day, each one perfectly in line with the corporate recipes that have made this one of the most successful chains in the country. And while some of the dishes resulting from those recipes are affronts to all things good and decent in the world (the shrimp with lobster sauce, for example, which was thin, gray and spiked with sluggy bits of mushroom), others -- like the fat shrimp dumplings and Cantonese roasted duck -- would be right at home at Denver's finest, home-grown Asian establishments. Above all, Chang's food is dependable, so what was terrible once will be terrible again, and what you found tasty on one visit will be tasty every time you return.

And people do return to Chang's, again and again. There's no reason the hoi polloi shouldn't have their shrimp cakes and eat them, too. $$$

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Jason Sheehan
Contact: Jason Sheehan