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Vegan for the Holidays

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Vegetarians in Paradise
 Dining in Paradise

In most restaurant reviews the reader sees the restaurant experience from one person's point of view. In the reviews of the Vegetarians in Paradise, the reader experiences the eatery from the point of view of two people in dialogue form. Vegetarians in Paradise brings you those two intrepid restaurant aficionados, Zel and Reuben Allen, who will take you along as they eat a swath across the Los Angeles environs.

We dined at P.F. Chang's three times since our review. Each time we went we became more confused by the wait staff about whether or not their vegetarian selections were vegan. We then contacted P.F. Chang's corporate office for the inside story. Laura Cherry, their National Public Relations Manager, clarified the issue in her message we would like to share:

"We will not state that our food is vegan because despite the fact that we could incorporate a style of sugar that is acceptable to vegans in our cooking, many of the products that we import from China (soy sauce, etc.) are made with sugar that P.F. Chang's can not certify as meeting the standards acceptable to vegans.

"P.F. Chang's does prepare the ingredients that go into our vegetarian dishes on surfaces used only for the preparation of vegetables and tofu (seafood and meats also have their own designated surfaces). Our dishes are wok cooked using extremely high temperatures. After a dish has been prepared, the wok is cleaned using extremely high temperatures, but we do not have woks designated exclusively for vegetarian dishes."

In a subsequent phone conversation with Ms. Cherry we learned that P.F. Chang's uses a vegetarian oyster sauce on their vegetarian dishes. This is a soy sauce with a mushroom base and contains no animal products.

June 2001

P. F. Chang's

Z: Since Valentine's Day is my birthday, I had an opportunity to select where I wanted to go for my special lunch. After hearing a friend rave about P.F. Chang's Ma Po Tofu, I knew that was where I wanted to eat.

R: We were so pleasantly surprised by our experience that we agreed to come back a month later with friends for a serious review.

Z: Again, we did lunch, this time with our friends, Art and Dori, who are not vegetarian but were very open to new adventures in food. This day they were looking forward to a vegetarian extravaganza.

R: Since the restaurant is usually very busy during the lunch hour, we thought it best to come at 1:00 p.m. after the big rush. Our timing was perfect and we were seated right away.

Z: The hostess showed us to a comfortable, upholstered booth along one wall. The restaurant, though quite large, has an intimate atmosphere created by warm earth tones, exquisite slump stone walls, and unique soft lighting with clusters of mammoth size drum-head-looking fixtures that drop down from their high ceiling.

R: The moment we were seated, Traci, our serving person, who was bubbling with personality and a bright smile brought us our menus. The attraction that encouraged us to return for a second meal was the four vegan entrees that can also be ordered for dinner.

Z: We suggested ordering all four of the vegan entrees and sharing them. Dori nodded enthusiastically, but Art seemed a bit reluctant. He said he "hated" tofu and was not planning to eat any.

R: We found out that Art's only encounter with tofu consisted of the little bits found in miso soup. Zel convinced him he would miss out on some really tasty dishes and that he ought to taste a few bites. He did. He wasn't sorry either.

Z: Chang's Vegetables in Soothing Lettuce Wraps, sounded great as a starter. Traci mentioned that they were usually made with oyster sauce, but that Chang's has a vegan version as well. I thought that was pretty darn savvy of this progressive company. Our Lettuce Wraps came in two dishes. One dish had large rounds of iceberg lettuce. The other had a filling with little squares of tofu and wok-seared diced vegetables cooked in their vegan oyster sauce that made a delightful beginning. Dori needed a demo so we simply spooned a little of the filling into a lettuce round, folded it, and ate it like a taco. They loved it. Even Art enjoyed the tofu.

R: Our attentive server, who noticed that we ran out of lettuce and still had more filling, brought us more lettuce. No one had to ask for more water. The bus boys were right on top of it. Then came the entrees: Vegetable Chow Fun, Temple Long Beans, Ma Po Tofu, and Coconut-Curry Vegetables.

Z: The Ma Po Tofu is a stand-out dish with large squares of deep fried crispy silken tofu tossed in a mildly spicy, well-seasoned Szechwan sauce and surrounded with steamed broccoli florets cooked to perfection. We can certainly recommend this dish. Actually, it was my favorite.

R: As a perfect companion dish, the Vegetable Chow Fun provided an ideal balance with its delicate spice and slightly sweet flavors. We all devoured the wide rice noodles that were mixed with long strips of shredded scallions, carrots, and shiitaki mushrooms. The flavors were so satisfying, there wasn't much left to take home.

Z: On the lighter side, the Temple Long Beans were definitely long and so fresh tasting. Our friend, Art, certainly had a well-rounded tofu experience that day. This dish had generous portions of sliced, pressed five-spice tofu along with slivered carrots and scallions in a delicious, well-seasoned vegan oyster sauce.

R: My favorite was the Coconut-Curry Vegetables, a colorful blend of stir-fried broccoli florets, snap peas, sliced carrots, onions, mushrooms, diced red bell peppers, and bok choy, dotted with chopped peanuts, and accented with deep fried crispy silken tofu. The coconut curry sauce was flavorful, yet delicate enough not to dominate the other dishes. I mustn't forget to mention that we ordered Brown Rice to accompany our meal.

Z: At first, Art and Dori tasted each item hesitantly, then dug in with gusto. Between bites we sipped on Jasmine Tea poured from an earthy brown teapot and served in little round cups. P. F. Chang's

R: On the table was a selection of condiments we could add to enhance our food, though it was hardly necessary. Everything was well seasoned. Among the choices were Chinese mustard, honey, Chinese chili sauce, and pot-sticker sauce. Traci showed us how to add some Chinese mustard and chili sauce to the pot-sticker sauce, a zesty combination that worked perfectly on our lettuce wraps.

Z: On our first visit we learned that their vegan dishes are prepared in a different part of the kitchen from the rest of the menu. That impressed us. The restaurateurs of this national chain are saavy folks who have demonstrated vegan awareness so lacking by the majority of restaurants.

R: We also discovered that the vegan dishes are new on their menu as is their nationwide policy to have a separate kitchen preparation area for their vegan dishes. We commend them for bringing a health approach to their menu and for preventing cross-contamination of their vegan preparations.

Z: Some other vegetarian offerings on the menu include Szechwan-Style Long Beans with preserved vegetables, Spinach Stir-Fried with Garlic, Shanghai Snow Peas stir-fried with black mushrooms and water chestnuts, and Garlic Snap Peas. They also feature Buddha's Feast with mixed veggies either steamed or stir-fried, Poached Baby Bok Choy topped with black mushrooms in oyster sauce, Singapore Noodles, and Stir-Fried Spicy Eggplant with scallions in a fiery sauce.

R: Zel is usually the one to notice the decor in most of the restaurants we review. This one, however, caught my attention with its excellent taste. I'll probably sound sexist here, but the interior design had a masculine approach, yet not blatant. For instance, the hardwood floors were rosewood as were the chairs. A few pillars throughout the room were made of stone squares with a unique mosaic of natural colors. Seated on top of the pillars were replicas of Xian warriors from China. The entrance also is quite dramatic with its irregular surfaced stone walls and stone floors.

Z: I was attracted to the huge mural along the back wall above the semi circular bar. In tasteful soft colors, it had a number of elegantly dressed women of the court who were entertaining royalty with their musical talents.

R: The leftovers came home with us in a Chang's bag that featured their attractively designed logo. They truly live up to their goal of providing a harmony of taste, what they refer to as Fan and T'sai. I thought they were pretty easy on the wallet, too. Most people don't order multiple dishes and can have a tasty, satisfying meal for under $10 per person.

P.F. Chang's China Bistro at the Promenade
21821 Oxnard Street, Woodland Hills, CA 91367
Phone 818-340-0491
Hours: 11:00 a.m. to 11:p.m. Sunday through Thursday
11:00 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday

See Los Angeles Vegetarian Restaurants for other P.F. Chang's locations in the Los Angeles area.

Reviewed April 2001

Click here for past Dining in Paradise reviews

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