Monday, June 19, 2006

Pei Wei

It's a good thing Andria has a million projects going otherwise I'm sure she could start her own food blog and have you all reading her instead of me in no time. I bring you another winning review of Andria's despite my large ego telling me otherwise.

Pei Wei Asian Diner
1680 Union Ave.

It seemed like such a brilliant idea. We’d spent the afternoon so busy playing that no one bothered to consider dinner, so at around 6:30 on a Saturday evening, we decided to try a new restaurant and stop by the nearby ice cream shop afterward. Based on Stacey’s previous review, we were prepared to bail on this mission if the crowd was too intense, but we were pleasantly surprised when we pulled into the new plaaaaza (so much classier than a strip mall, no?) and found a parking spot right by the door. Clearly a good omen. (Can you already hear the parenting goddesses high above, laughing their daisy-bedecked heads off?)

First off, they seem to have worked through some of their early-opening issues, including patron management. Upon arriving, we were greeted by a host/server who asked us if we’d been to the restaurant before. When we said no, she explained the ordering process (1. pick food off giant menu, 2. try to commit your order to memory before walking three feet away to the counter, 3. check smaller version of menu in front of register in case you have a frontal lobotomy while walking to counter, or if you have children). The menu seemed reasonable enough, and offered a lot of choices in the under-$7 range including a variety of noodle dishes. The “signature dishes” were more ! traditional entrees that could be ordered with a choice of meat and varied from $6.95 (tofu) to $9.00 (shrimp). The only kid-specific item is the “kid’s wei,” which is chicken prepared in either a teriyaki, honey seared or lo mein style (I thought lo mein was just vegetables?) with either brown or white rice. We stood with one or two other parties milling around the giganto-menu, and then had a couple conversations entirely in body language to determine which of us would order next (us: eyebrow raise, sideways head tilt, them: shoulder shrug, pause, forward head tilt. Isn’t sociology fun?)

We went up to order, having of course forgotten what we wanted and having to find the same items on the mini-menu while the cashier informed us that they were “in hold” right now and wouldn’t be able to charge us or start our food until a table opened up. Fortunately, this didn’t take long, as a floor manager-type guy offered to seat us at the counter table in front of the "exhibition kitchen." I thought this would be fun for The Monkey, who likes to help us cook and is always making elaborate meals out of Play Doh and Legos. So we got to the counter and before I could even get The Monkey onto the bar stool, a giant flame shot up from one of the pans. I thought she would think this was cool, but apparently my f! ear of fire is hereditary because that little monkey scrambled onto me with all four limbs and clung for dear life. The astute floor manager noticed this and immediately offered to find us another table, which I thought was very courteous. I refused at first, but when it became clear that The Monkey was genuinely upset by the constant shooting flames, I agreed to relocate. By this time, Jeff had filled up our drinks and we were all seated by the front door, which sure came in handy (as you’ll soon see).

The first thing I noticed when we sat down was how many other kids were there, which is generally reassuring. The next thing I noticed was that it was really freakin’ LOUD. The floors are concrete, if I recall correctly, and at least two-thirds of the walls are glass, so the smallish room was practically reverberating with noise. It was also rather dark, which combined with the noise resulted in sort of an uncomfortable claustrophobic feeling.

About this time, the full impact of our order total hit me. We’d gotten two entrees, two small appetizers, two drinks and a kid’s meal, and our meal came to $35. “I don’t think you can call yourself a ‘diner’ if two and a half people can’t eat for under $30,” I grumbled to Jeff. “What?” he said, unintentionally ripping off a joke from RJA. [Note: upon reviewing and re-adding our order, I think that we were charged for large appetizers instead of small, which resulted in an extra $5, so our order would have come to $29.66, including tax.] Thankfully I was lifted from my budget brooding when the food arrived.

Our appetizers arrived first: my crab wontons and Jeff’s spring rolls. I’d ordered the wontons thinking The Monkey would be interested in them, but the chile sauce they rested in was too spicy for her. By the time she nibbled through one corner and spat out any traces of crab or sauce, our entrees arrived. I ordered the ginger broccoli chicken, Jeff had the Mongolian beef and we got the teriyaki meal for The Monkey, since we figured it would most closely resemble her dad’s barbecue creations. Everything came with rice, but no other sides. The server asked if The Monkey would need something to help with the chopsticks and came back with one of those cool little gadget! s that locks the chopsticks together into giant wooden tweezers. Apparently he also said something about forks but I didn’t hear him, so The Monkey was left to waste those precious first few minutes of food interest by playing with her cool new utensil toy. She did make a sincere effort to jab some rice, but it wasn’t long before she began a repeated whine-cycle of wanting help removing the sticks from the holder and then wanting help getting them back in. She was also conducting an elaborate experiment to deduce the least appropriate places to stick said chops, including the straw of her drink. (We’d let her get lemonade instead of water as a sign of faith in her anticipated good behavior. And also because of my growing resentment at being the parent w! ho always has to choose a child-friendly beverage, knowing that The Mo nkey will give up on her boring water and start begging for whatever fancy drink the grown-ups are having.)

When she got bored with the chopstick game, she started in on her old favorite, the choking hazard game. The rules of the game are simple: 1. put forbidden object in mouth and look around expectantly until someone notices, 2. grab object out of mouth as soon as adult says, “What is in your mouth? Don’t put that in there!” 3. promise to keep object out of mouth, 4. return to step 1 and repeat until object is forcefully removed from clenched fist, 5. scream and yell, “Daddy hit me!” We got through a full round of this game while Jeff and I both tried to get through our food and simultaneously (and totally unsuccessfully) entice The Monkey to eat her own meal.

We now pause for an actual food review: I was pleasantly surprised by the tastiness of my chicken. I was expecting it to be much less tender and much more generically seasoned, but it was really quite good. Not that I had much time to notice as I was battling (again, unsuccessfully) to keep my chopsticks from ending up on the floor. The Monkey was getting increasingly agitated, and even though the dinner rush was waning, the noisiness was wearing on us all. My dinner was getting colder and colder as I tried to find something edible for The Monkey to put in her mouth. She ate exactly one handful (literally) of rice before attempting to rappel onto my chair using only ! my hair as a safety harness. Used to countering this type of spontaneous mealtime affection, Jeff grabbed her and sat her down on his side of the table. She writhed and wailed (I think; her mouth was moving, anyway) and eventually whapped Jeff in the face, resulting in an immediate removal from the table and outdoor time-out. From my window seat, I could see Jeff explaining that the No Hitting rule still applies in restaurants as The Monkey looked at the sidewalk and seemingly agreed to chill out. We now tried to bribe The Monkey into eating her chicken, this time promising “a cookie with a surprise in it” if she got through a reasonable amount of real food.

And that’s when it really went to heck. She started yelling, “I want a cookie with a prize! I want a cookie with a prize!” while Jeff continued trying to contain her in a seat-like area. She wriggled free and came back to my side of the table, and I tried one more time to get her to have some food and/or calm it down. Jeff and I were both trying hard to get through the meal in a manner that would warrant an ice cream reward, mostly because we both really really wanted some ice cream, but that dream was quickly, um, melting.

Jeff got up for a drink refill and to stuff his pockets with fortune cookies, just in case she redeemed herself. When he got back to the table, Jeff loosened her from my neck and sat her down on his lap. We could practically hear her brain commanding her hands, “Those cookies are ours, girls. We just have to get past The Father. Fire at will!” and sure enough, she threw another jab at her dad. The second outdoor time-out of the night followed, during which time I finished my now tepid and not nearly as tasty chicken. I trudged outside into the stuffy evening air, saddened once again by the demise of our ice cream plan.

We all went home in a bad mood and sagged into the house. Within a few minutes, though, The Monkey was contentedly coloring and seemed completely unaware of how miserable the last hour had been. When we asked her why she’d been so upset at the restaurant, she said, “I was scared.” Wha?

“Scared of what, honey?”

“The cooking.”

Ohhhh. It all suddenly made sense: the distractedness, the clinginess, the short temper. She’d been freaked out the whole time. And I’m sure the constant din hadn’t helped much, either. So even though we enjoyed our food, and the convenience of deli-style ordering, I don’t think we’ll be hurrying back into Pei Wei anytime soon.

But hey, did I mention they have take-out? Of course, so do the other 47 (authentic) Asian restaurants in Midtown.

Pei Wei Asian Diner on Urbanspoon


Unknown said...

A 1755 word review? Leave some space on the internet for the rest of us, Andria.

But maybe I'm still upset over my 'probation' from writing for DWM.

Anonymous said...

Take your shout-out and be happy about it!

Anonymous said...

Pei-Wei is nothing put a chain restaurant. Lo-Mein is a kind of noodles and they use spaghetti noodles on all their stuff. Every entree tastes the same.

Anonymous said...

I've noticed that Pei Wei only serves about 1/4 cup of whatever entree you've ordered on top of about 2 cups of white or brown rice. Very skimpy on the protein for dishes that aren't skimpy on the price!

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