Cafe Reviewed: Wednesday, October 17, 2002
Pei Wei Asian Diner\r\nCrab wontons (4) $3.75\r\nAsian coconut curry with chicken $6.75\r\nPei Wei Spicy beef $7.75\r\nHoney-seared shrimp $9.00
Wei Trendy

P.F. Chang’s hip little brother is an inexpensive entrée into Asian cuisine.


Pei Wei Asian Diner

5900 Overton Ridge Rd, FW. 817-294-0808. Sun-Thurs 10:30am-9:30pm, Fri-Sat 10:30am-10pm. AE, M, V.

San Fransisco-based P.F. Chang’s has a new kid brother in town: Pei Wei Asian Diner. Pronounced “pay way” (think of soccer legend Pele, with a twist), this “little brother” restaurant — partly owned by the operators of the famed West Coast restaurant chain — is going to give its older and more sophisticated sibling a run for its chopsticks.

For regulars of the upscale chain’s locations in Dallas or elsewhere, Pei Wei, which opened in south Fort Worth at the beginning of September, may seem like a P.F. Chang’s in jeans and a Tommy t-shirt: similar food, but cheaper prices, and you order at the counter. The same trendy black-and-red color theme and the same feng shui style pervade. Sharp black-and-white framed photos hang from red walls over black chairs and tables. Cool red Chinese characters abound.

Three large menu billboards are set up just inside the entrance to guide diners along the path to the registers to order. In my experience, unfortunately, this usually only serves to confuse and stall diners, who stand and stare as if at an art gallery, arms folded and eyes glazed over. At Pei Wei, however, friendly wait-staffers will subtly coax you down the aisle like a reluctant bride, answering your questions and recommending specialties.

Although half of Pei Wei’s dishes are borrowed directly from Chang’s, prices are a welcome contrast. The most expensive entrée is $9 (any of the signature dishes with shrimp), and the cheapest is $6 (most of the noodle and rice bowls). At Pei Wei, you choose the ingredients you want — chicken, beef, shrimp, scallops, or vegetables/tofu — and the style you want. The menu boasts that creator and namesake Pei Wei Jeng incorporated recipes from Thailand, Vietnam, China, and Japan into his authentic dishes.

The self-serve drinks bar includes the usual soft drinks and coffee, plus chai or mandarin orange green tea. Pick up silverware (if you’re chopstick-impaired) and tins of hot mustard and chile sauce, and don’t forget the fortune cookies. A canister of chopsticks is already planted at each table.

You’ll need those sticks, and fast—be ready to chow down as soon as you sit down. Dishes are brought to your table almost immediately. The first taste my dinner partners and I had was an order of crab wontons, one of my favorite appetizers, which had a deliciously strong crab flavor that warmed up my spice-o-meter. Diners might also want to try the tantalizing lettuce wraps, potstickers, and spring rolls, all of which come in small or large portions.

In the entrée division, the Asian coconut curry with chicken was smothered in a delicious sauce and served with ginger, Asian basil, red bell pepper, onion, and long beans. I also tried the Pei Wei Spicy, with roaring-hot beef in a chile-vinegar sauce with garlic, scallion, crunchy snap peas, and crisp carrots. We also ordered the honey-seared shrimp, covered in a classic sweet batter that I predict may soon become famous in these parts. All of the entrées were hot, tasty, and reasonably sized (unlike at a lot of Chinese restaurants that pile it on). Pei Wei succeeded in keeping the vegetables crunchy, maybe even a little too much so, and the meat tender.

Pei Wei is great for what it professes to be: a trendy place where jazz is piped through the speakers and where diners can get hot, fast, and fresh Chinese food for a decent price — even though the tastes were not as original as I would have liked them to be, and the entrées felt a little on the “assembly-line” side. This is not Chinese food for those seeking an authentic ethnic food experience or who consider themselves gourmets. However, this seems like a wonderful start for those new to Chinese food, young couples on a date, and families who dig the cool atmosphere. And youngsters might get a kick out of Kid’s Wei, a choice of entrées for children 12 or under.

With such attentive service and reasonable prices, Pei Wei just seems like a fun restaurant that is having an outstanding time getting the ball rolling.

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