"I just hate that we can't seem to find good Chinese food from a clean kitchen," she said. As regular readers of the Restaurant Inspection Reports may have noticed (we know we have) there seems to be a far greater number of demerits more often in certain cuisines versus others. Because of that, we find it difficult to want to eat at a select number of restaurants (Asian included) throughout The Woodlands. Among Asian restaurants in more recent inspections, P.F. Chang's and it's little brother, Pei Wei (with two Woodlands-area locations), have fared pretty well, so we opted to give them a try again. While the foods are quite similar, the menu at Pei Wei differs and is definitely more of a fast food joint versus P.F. Chang's which offers full service, including a bar, along with a much classier interior; and The Woodlands location is very nice. Both establishments offer a 'Rewards Program' based on receiving 10 points per dollar spent, and Pei Wei generates a free en-tree at 1000 points while P.F. Chang's doesn't offer an entree until 2000 points have been earned.
Having skipped lunch, we arrived quite hungry and opted for an appetizer. The Summer Rolls ($7.50), come split open and served cold on a chilled plate. They provided a succulent, cool flavor and when dipped in the peanut sauce, and were like eating salad with your hands. If you don't mind the somewhat-chewy texture of the rice paper, these are very good.
Playing it safe and ordering an old favorite, I decided on Chang's Spicy Chicken ($15.50), which used to be described on the menu as "tender, diced chicken breast lightly dusted and stir-fried with a tangy sauce of sweet and spice," but is now more simply described as, "signature sweet & spicy chili sauce wok-tossed with scallions and garlic." I was initially enthusiastic about my meal, the first bite or two having a familiar flavor to them though still not quite as spicy as I would have hoped. It makes sense, though, needing to appeal to a wide range of tastes, better to error on the side of caution. Still, by the third bite I began to feel let down, as I realized I was chewing on essentially a large chunk of chicken fat. The next couple of bites were okay, but then not one but two bites in a row I again found myself chewing on fat. A manager had just stopped by a few minutes prior and as we were both chewing at the time, we simply nodded at him as he spoke. When he came back by, we let him know it seemed the kitchen might not be paying close attention to the chicken as they trimmed it. He offered a replacement, but I feared more of the same, and with my appetite now waning, I decided to get a smaller plate; and the Steamed Pork Dumplings sounded like a good replacement for my less-than-half-eaten meal.
P. F. Chang's still hasn't returned the fabulous Shanghai Street Dumplings to the appetizer menu - those pillowy, moist little buns filled with a savory mix of ginger and soy-laced ground chicken studded with green onions I lamented back in 2012 and still do today. The China Bistro now offers some very tasty dumplings with your choice of chicken, pork or beef, and served with a slightly spicy sauce. The sauce definitely could have been a little spicier but, I think the (secret menu item) "Chef's Spicy Sauce," which the manager offered us a sampling of when we came back by to check on us, might be a little bit overpowering for these tender and delicious little guys. The dumplings would be a perfect addition to drinks during happy hour.
I got the Almond Cashew Chicken; stir-fried with bell peppers, onion, mushrooms, celery, bamboo shoots, and water chestnuts in a garlic soy sauce, ($14.50). The dish had a very nice blend of flavors, with each one presenting themselves in a very calm manner. I've been on a "more spicier than not" flavor profile as of late and my tastebuds were frantically searching for the zest factor, which sadly, would never arrive. My brain knew there would be no fire, as the sultry chicken and it's partners danced around my tongue. The pleasing melody of flavors were synchronized in a subtle, yet wonderful concert of delight.
Though it wasn't the greatest meal we'd ever had at P.F. Chang's, it wasn't all bad, either. We were glad to observe there seems to be a sense of ownership and personal investment in the staff at P.F. Chang's, much the same way we noted several years back. It's nice to see managment visiting diners and we feel that kind of commitment to customer service is invaluable, especially when presented with the number of dining options we have here in The Woodlands. So would we recommend eating at P.F. Chang's? Absolutely.