Is there room in the local culinary scene for a “gentrified” Chinese restaurant that appeals to a younger market with a taste for dishes that eschew the familiar salty and oily offerings and opt instead for fresher ingredients and a clean, MSG-free flavor?
Well, that’s what P.F. Chang’s is out to prove, here in the land of Cantonese cuisine. “We try to appeal to a different market from those who go for either the traditional ‘greasy spoons’ or the high-end palaces of Chinese food,” says Griffith Go, chief finance officer of Global Restaurant Concepts Inc., the group behind P.F. Chang’s Philippines and a growing number of international franchises.
That’s why P.F. Chang’s, a “Chinese-American” franchise that was founded in Scottsdale, Arizona, in the United States, replaces the familiar appeal of the traditional Chinese restaurant—blindingly lit, with plenty of red and gold touches—with a darker, more contemporary look with touches of Chinese heritage, but modern and edgy.
The contemporary appeal goes beyond the décor. New menu items were recently introduced, and at a recent media launch, most everyone agreed the new offerings successfully bring the old, familiar favorites up a notch.
A new category is the “dim sum,” highlighted by the Xiao Long Bao, which has become the latest “star” in most Chinese restaurant menus here, but at P.F. Chang’s comes with a clean, less fatty flavor. Also a hit, at least with me and my tablemates who were mostly food and travel bloggers, was the Tuna Tataki, appetizers using what the restaurant claims is “sushi-grade tuna” with cucumbers and sesame seeds and served on top of seared tuna slices and crisp wonton discs. Refreshing!
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Counted among the starters was Tofu Steak, crisp breaded tofu slices topped with charred bell peppers, onions and kung pao sauce with whole chilies that set off the meal to a hot start.
There were also Radish Shrimp Dumplings, the familiar ha kaw shrimp dumplings topped with disc of daikon or radish that adds a zing to the mild dumpling flavors. Flaming Red Wontons are pork dumplings in a fiery sauce of chilies and spices, finished with scallions and sesame seeds, just hot enough to tease the tongue without sending out fire alarms.
A favorite of mine among the entrees was the Grilled Angus Flank Steak, thin grilled steak slices served with sides of Chinese eggplant and a surprising touch: half a grilled peach bathed in hoisin glaze, that lends a sweet and savory touch to an otherwise rich and cloying dish.
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Desserts aren’t usually a strong point of Chinese restaurants—think chilled almond jelly with lychees—but at P.F. Chang’s one’s sweet tooth can be gratified.
Start with an old, familiar sweet, buchi, with an unexpected luxurious twist. This is Choco Buchi, the traditional rice balls filled with sweet chocolate, with Go advising us to eat the sweets while still hot, noting that they aren’t for take-outs since they are best tasted warm. But, we took some Choco Buchi home and our son, without bothering to put the buchi in the microwave, took several bites and proclaimed them “delicious!”
Another dessert item worth a try is Chang’s Apple Crunch, an unexpected combination of crispy rolls (using lumpia wrappers) filled with tart Granny Smith apple slices over a caramel sauce, and served with vanilla ice cream. And while a Chinese restaurant meal usually leaves us sated and near-comatose, at P.F. Chang’s the desserts lend a sweet ending punch to a satisfying, filling meal.
I once wondered how a “Chinese-American” restaurant could succeed in a land overwhelmed by a Cantonese eatery in practically every corner. But P.F. Chang’s seems to have found a formula for success, starting with clean flavors and healthy offerings.
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Congratulations to Belen Lim-Cecilio, Linda Villaluz-Luciano, and Isabel Suiza-Diquiatco—the three recipients of the Soroptimist International of the Philippines Region (SIPR) Mariquita S. Castelo Centennial Leadership Award.
Mariquita Castelo founded the first Soroptimist Club in the country and in her years of service not just to the Soroptimists but to the Girl Scouts of the Philippines as well. In life, she exemplified the values of volunteerism, concern for disadvantaged women, and outstanding leadership. The three awardees, chosen from among 36 nominees and 15 semifinalists, likewise embody these traits, as shown in their lives of service.
Lim-Cecilio is a charter member of SI Cabanatuan, a devoted family woman, religious and spiritual, a charismatic teacher, and a tireless civic leader. Under her leadership, SI Cabanatuan received a total of 22 awards from SIPR, government agencies and NGOs. Personally, she has also been recognized by the Inner Wheel Clubs of the Philippines, the Girl Scouts, and the Mother Butler Guild.
Villaluz-Luciano, charter president of SI Sta. Maria, has been a public school teacher for more than a decade, using her leadership to bring prestige and distinction to SI Sta. Maria which recently joined the regional SI Hall of Fame for being named “Most Outstanding Club” for three consecutive terms.
The third awardee, Suiza-Diquiatco, has been a member of SI Caloocan City for almost 25 years. A science teacher, “Tita Biling” pioneered in teaching functional literacy with a livelihood approach as strategy. But considered as her landmark achievement is the “Supplemental Feeding and Mother Approach Project” which fed 200 malnourished children for 10 months while the mothers were taught how to cook and feed their children with nutritious food.