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P.F. Chang’s

May 19, 2009 Leave a comment

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In January, I wrote a post about Olive Garden. This was inspired by an article by Raymond Sokolov in the WSJ comparing Olive Garden to famed Chicago Italian restaurant Spiaggia. At the end of my post, I listed as a coming attraction my thoughts on another national chain, P. F. Chang’s China Bistro, where we had eaten just two weeks earlier to celebrate Jessica’s birthday. But I have yet to write the promised post.

I was reminded of this today in reading a guest post by Richard Florida at Andrew Sullivan’s blog in which Florida points to an article about Chang’s in Slate. The article , written by Daniel Gross, focuses on P.F. Chang’s’ surprising economic success in the midst of the recession: “Operating margins—the holy grail of any business—at P.F. Chang’s 190 stores rose from 12.8 percent to 14 percent, largely because of ‘incremental operational improvement opportunities.’ The stock has doubled since November.”

Gross’s comments on the food at P.F. Chang’s capture my own thoughts well. Gail and I ate there for the first time a year ago, when we went to Portland for a quick overnight trip on the Friday and Saturday of Mother’s Day weekend. We stopped in the Pearl District on our way out of town to go to Powell’s Books, and it was well past lunchtime as we were leaving, so we decided to eat before getting on I-5. And right by the elevator to the parking garage was a P.F. Chang’s, so we ate there. I had never been too keen to try it, but there was no point searching for something else when it was right there and we were hungry. And to our joint surprise, we really liked it. Last September, we went to the P.F. Chang’s in Bellevue Square, the first one I had ever seen. It was again right by the garage where our car was parked, across the street from the movie theater where we had just seen, um, a movie. (Okay, it was Mamma Mia! Why not?) And again we liked it. The birthday celebration in January was at the P.F. Chang’s in downtown Seattle, part of Westlake Mall. Three visits. Three good meals.

So what’s the deal? It’s not the greatest food. Not the greatest restaurant. But unlike so many neighborhood restaurants, it serves food that is not oily and heavy. Is it authentic? Maybe not, but neither is the greasy food at most non-chain local Chinese restaurants. And the truth is, it’s better than a lot of those places. That’s Gross’s conclusion too: Read more…

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Categories: Restaurants