Thursday, May 18, 2006

Pei Wei

Pei Wei Asian Diner
Corner of Union & Belvedere

I snagged a Pei Wei menu when we were at Baskin Robbins last week so I would know exactly what to order when I took the monkeys (Satchel, 4, and Jiro, 2). Pei Wei seems to be riding the new wave of casual dining. You order at the counter, get a drink, and then sit down with a number and wait for a waitron to deliver your food. I believe this is supposed to speed things up and eliminate the whole “waiting” (to be seated, for a menu, to order, for your food, for your check) element of the dining experience. I’m all for speedy—that’s the only reason I ever go to a buffet. However, I have yet to see this pizza parlor style really pan out.

Last year, Warren and I took the monkeys to Mama Fu’s (Poplar & Yates) which is also an Asian diner with the “casual dining” approach. I remember looking around the empty dining room and seeing several people sitting around with numbers, but no food. There was no one behind the register to take our order and everyone in the kitchen was under 18 (and Caucasian). We left immediately, not that anyone noticed.

My mom and I went to Mosa (Poplar & Kirby) after Temple last year and I discovered that it too was in the “casual dining” style. We were the only ones in the restaurant and we were able to order, get our drinks, and sit down with no problems. A waiter brought our food out and was very talkative and helpful. As was the owner (formerly the owner of Formosa on Summer). When it was all over, I wondered why we needed to order at the counter if we were going to have a doting waiter the entire time. It just seemed odd and since we ended up tipping anyway, a bit pointless.

Back to Pei Wei.

The menu has a lot of tasty sounding dishes that span several continents—China, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, and Japan. There are familiar dishes like Hot & Sour soup, Pad Thai, Fried Rice, Kung Pao, and some more exciting ones like Soba Miso , Spicy Korean & Asian Coconut Curry dishes. The kids’ menu is a bit slim—chicken prepared in a teriyaki style, honey seared, or lo mein, but there's no reason why they can't order off the main menu--especially if they are noodle lovers like the monkeys.

On my third read through, I planned to get the coconut curry for myself and udon for the monkeys to split. Then I noticed the small print on the cover. It read, "Pei Wei: A casual, new Asian-style diner by P.F. Chang’s China Bistro."

I am not a fan of P.F. Chang’s. I realize a lot of people are, but I am not. The one time Warren and I went (pre-monkey days), the waiter actually tried to explain what an eggroll was to us. It was like they were catering to people who had been living in a cave for the last 1000 years. My sister (who I am NOT calling a caveman) loves P.F. Chang's, and often gives speeches on the deliciousness of the lettuce wraps, but I am not impressed by them. (Yes, Pei Wei has the lettuce wraps too.)

After discovering that this new diner was indeed a chain that probably wasn't much different from Mama Fu's, I decided that I wasn’t going to rush to there. However last night after getting the monkey's hair cut, I asked Satchel what he wanted to eat and he said, “I want something new like I’ve never had before.” When pressed further he said he wanted Japanese noodles. So, I changed my mind. Plus Warren is out of town, and I wanted to see what dining solo with the monkeys would be like.

“Okay,” I said. “We’ll go to the new noodle house.”

“Yay! Yay!” Satchel said. “Where is it? How many minutes will it take to get there?” he asked.

My first thought was to say, Next to the ice cream store, but I stopped myself. There was a small chance I could actually get them in the restaurant without having to promise we’d get ice cream afterwards. (I’m not opposed to this normally, but each monkey had six lollipops while getting his haircut prior to our quest for food.) “It’s across the street from Schmuck’s (a.k.a. Schnuck’s),” I said.

It was only about 6:30pm when we pulled in, but the lot was packed with cars. Warning bells started going off in my head, but I was determined to try a new restaurant, with no help, with the two sugar smacked monkeys. I opened the door and was not surprised to see that it was bustling. There was a long line of folks waiting to order and almost every table was full. A sign read, “As a courtesy to those in line, please do not take a seat until you have ordered.” As a result, there were a lot of people in line holding baby carriers and wrangling toddlers. There was a very cranky mother of two (one baby, one toddler) screaming at her husband. “I do not want to wait in this line!” she wailed as she finally walked out the door with the baby. The father, holding the toddler, looked embarrassed and sad as he followed her out of the door.

I admit it. I giggled because that was so me a few short months ago!

Oh but look at me now—flying solo AND smiling while waiting in line. I tried to contain the monkeys and keep them attached to my body in some way, but it only lasted a few minutes. They were soon chasing each other around the large menu boards lining the wall. I noticed that the boards were on large metal posts bolted into the floor, so I didn’t worry about the monkeys causing any major damage. I looked around the dining room and noticed several tables with people but no food. The one waiter I saw with food couldn’t quite figure out where he was supposed to go. I started to worry. I looked at the cash register to see what the hold up was, but couldn’t figure it out.

We waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Finally, I just couldn’t wait anymore. “Let’s go to the other Japanese restaurant,” I said as I happily marched the monkeys out the door. I really wanted to go somewhere new and exciting, but it was 7:00pm, we were all starving, and Sekisui was just a hop, skip, and a jump away.

I’m sure at some point we will try Pei Wei again, but I’m in no hurry. I will certainly try and go when it isn’t busy since the “casual dining” experience they promote doesn’t exactly equal "fast" or “family-friendly".

The next stop on my Asian dining list is Edo on (of course) Summer Avenue.

Pei Wei Asian Diner on Urbanspoon


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed ur post on the the new asian diner in midtown. I work there and have already had the Pei Wei experience. Theres nuthing really special about the food and the service is 6.50/hr, so u can imagine me and the other employees not wanting to start sweating to make the managers happy. Also theres not a single asian person who works there and all the managers are assholes except for Larry. If I was to recommend anything It would be to call and order ahead of time so when you walk in all u have to do is grab ur food and be on ur way back to adobe. Ricky

Serrabee said...

I don't know what that sweating reference is all about... but I agree that there's nothing too special about it. As far as I'm concerned, the best thing about PeiWei is that you can get lunch away from the office in under an hour.

squarefoods said...

Stacey! I miss the monkeys! A few of us Square Kids have eaten at Pei Wei while we're working on the new store. I got a "salad" in a wrap. It was nice and cool, but nothing special--I called it deliberately mediocre. Niki likes the soba noodle bowl with spinach.

But we all have one question. How do you, or are you supposed to, tip? Did you ever actually dine in or take out?


Anonymous said...

No need to try Pei Wei....just go to any mall and eat at any chinese place in the food court - it's the same. I don't care for Pei Wei and all the food is bland and boring.

oostie said...

I ate at pei wei yesterday, I had the tofu lo mein, I found it delicious and the dining room very comfortable and inviting. I had a great experience, sometimes there are valid reasons for the way a restaurant operates, we should all be more understanding of everything going on around us besides our own personal needs. More we not more me. Manny

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