Ian and I made a rookie mistake. Exhausted from our day of travel to Boston, followed by Ian’s client meetings (and my own wandering around Newton while he visited a client) we got lazy — rather than take my older sister up on her offer to escort us to a great Eritrean restaurant in the Cambridge area that she knew of, we decided to dine close to our hotel — immediately across the street, to be exact. The Cambridgeside Galleria houses a food court as well as several restaurants, and the corner of the Galleria closest to our hotel is a P.F. Chang’s.
Being aware of P.F. Chang’s only as a chain of Chinese restaurants, we were sort of taken aback when we walked in. Dim lighting, in combination with wait staff dressed almost entirely in black, says they are clearly trying to be an upscale eatery, and their prices certainly agreed with that. The biggest problem with this, however, is that their food and service fall short of the expectations one has when dining in that sort of establishment.
We ordered the Tuna Tataki appetizer to begin, and it did its job well. It was a few delicious slices of pan-seared ahi tuna, each topped with a thin slice of jalapeño, micro greens, ponzu sauce and a garlic chip, and served with a portion of seaweed salad. The seaweed salad was tasty, the tuna was stellar, the garnishes were amazing, and we were left excited for the meal to come. Exactly how an appetizer should make you feel! If only the rest of our meal had been half as thrilling.
I ordered the Thai Beef & Noodle Salad, and Ian ordered the Crab Fried Rice. Since we were tired and just trying to get a meal in us so we could go to sleep and start our next busy day in Boston, we didn’t think to take pictures — not that the dim lighting would have allowed us to. Ian also ordered a Guinness, and I ordered a glass of plum wine. I probably should have realized there was going to be a problem with the service when they brought our water and his beer at the same time, and I had to wait for my wine, but I thought nothing of it until they brought his rice over a full seven minutes before my salad finally appeared.
Ian’s fried rice was boring, lacking anything resembling the vibrant flavors boasted in the menu description — when a dish lists lump crab meat, shiitake mushrooms, asparagus, egg, smoky bacon, zesty lemon and sriracha among its ingredients, you expect it to taste like something, rather than nothing, particularly when you’re paying for it. Of course, the biggest complaint I had was that I had to watch him eat it for what felt like forever, while waiting for my own meal to arrive.
Because of the lighting, it was almost impossible to tell between the red salad greens and the pieces of beef until I tried to spear them with my fork; the beef itself — which had the exact taste and texture of the most generic beef teriyaki, sans stick — was the only decent part about my salad. The cucumbers, mango and avocado that had helped me decide to order this salad in the first place were diced so finely that I couldn’t actually get them on my fork, and the “egg noodles” were a very strange, entirely unappealing texture — gummy and flavorless on the outside, yet still retaining that under-done crunch in the middle. It was almost as though they were made of soy cheese and play-dough. The mango was not ripe, which gave the dish a piney flavor, and the citrus vinaigrette was largely undetectable, but the hints I did get here and there didn’t add anything to the dish at all. As a whole, the dish was bland at best, and certainly not worth the $12.95 we were charged for it. Conversationally, I have used the words “terrible,” “gross,” and “a disaster” to describe it.
Will I ever eat there again? No, of course not. Will I ever try another P.F. Chang’s location? Probably not, which may be unfair to other locations within the chain, or may be well-deserved. I’m not even sure I’m comfortable buying a frozen P.F. Chang’s dinner at the grocery store, at this point. The experience was utterly disappointing. I have enough friends in the Boston area with good taste in food that I can source out better locations to dine the next time we visit — and I paid the price for not taking advantage of that resource this time around.
I give P.F. Chang’s China Bistro in the Cambridgeside Galleria two forks. I’m being generous only because the appetizer was so fantastic; if I wasn’t taking that into consideration, they’d be lucky to get a single fork out of five.