Tuesday, November 27, 2012

P.F.Chang's: Welcome to Istanbul!

Dear readers,

I don't know about you, but I LOVE Chinese food!  In fact, I "grew up" with Chinese food having lived in NYC for 30 years until 1995 but ate it more so out of a container and as "take out"! In other words, Chinese food "came to me" instead of the other way around! I even ordered take out from the wonderful chinese restaurant that was located in the Winter Garden at the American Express Tower at 200 Vesey Street where I worked in downtown Manhattan at Battery Park City before our division moved back uptown to 1120 Avenue of the Americas. For the life of me, I can't remember the name of the restaurant, but it was excellent and pricier than typical Chinese restaurants, but who cared - the food was soooo good!

I moved back to Istanbul in 1995 and had to give up by passion for many years as the number as well as the quality of Chinese restaurants in Istanbul was lacking AND it was very expensive! Then in the last few years, "casual" style Chinese restaurants started opening up around town and I started to "take out" once again, but I must admit, I was spoiled by the choices and quality of the restaurants in NYC!

Then at the beginning of November, I started hearing the buzz that a new eatery was going to open in Etiler on Nispetiye Street... already the 5 block radius of this street in Etiler had gone through a major transformation and once again, after years of "silence" shall we say with mediocre cafes & restaurants, it was was once again becoming a very popular area with the opening of topnotch cafes, restaurants and bars in 2012... (that's another blog article one day!)

The "new place" in question and the "newest" newcomer to Istanbul is P.F. Chang's. Undoubtedly, I was thrilled!

P.F. Chang's had an opening night party on November 7th on a dismal and very rainy day in Istanbul! I wasn't invited and I probably wouldn't have gone even if I was because I later heard that it was incredibly crowded as nearly everyone in town attended !

Instead about 10 days ago, I made plans to go to dinner with my friend Nur and my sister Meltem and we decided to go on Thursday (November 22) night.  Luck would have it that it was another dismal and rainy day!

So, our initial plans of sitting outside and having a cocktail or even dining outdoors went out the window! The outdoor seating areas are quite spacious but of course since it was raining and their was no awning to protect against the weather, we dined inside.

P.F. Chang's "outdoor area"

P.F. Chang's "outdoor area"
P.F. Chang's doesn't take reservations, so we got there around 7:15pm and were absolutely surprised that the majority of the tables at the 2 story venue were already taken! This was very surprising to me as Turks normally do not prefer to dine so early. Then, in a matter of another 15 minutes every table was taken and the fairly spacious bar and bar area was full of diners waiting for a table! Boy, our timing was perfect so we didn't have to wait!

P.F. Chang's "The Bar"
Let's take a step back for a second so that I can give you a general idea and "feel" of the venue... upon entering the restaurant, the bar is on the right hand side with the "main" dining room to the left of the bar with tables and booths and a little further left is a "separate" glass encased dining room. Adjacent to the bar are stairs that lead up to the 2nd floor and of course, I took a quick peek to see what it was like... To be honest, my first impression of the decor and ambiance was not favorably! But, then again... what do I know! P.F. Chang's has over 200 branches worldwide, so they must be doing something right! It was established in 1993 in Scotsdale, Arizona andwas named after owners Paul Fleming (P.F.) and Phillip Chiang (changed to Chang).

I found the decor very sparse and very "brown" as the entire space was decorated with a variety of tons of brown, with no wall hangings and some areas lit with  strob lighting (too much light on some tables) while the ceilings over the booths had softer lamp shaded lighting. Unfortunately, another problem was the acoustics... most of the time, "you could hear yourself talk", but it was impossible to hear the music as the sound/beat bounced all over the place which did get a bit annoying...

But... onto the MOST important part of the experience... the food! So, with menus in hand... we tried to decide what to order without going overboard because everything sounded good!

I had heard that the portions were satisfactory and suitable for sharing which was good to hear because that's really not usually the case with other Chinese restaurants in Istanbul compared to the USA where Chinese food is mostly reasonably priced and the portions quite big!

The menu at the Istanbul branch is not the same as the one offered in the USA and adjustments had been made. For example, there are no pork products. After much perusable, we decided to concentrate on "seafood" dishes which turned out to be an excellent decision!

And... since there is no "set" rules anymore that you must have white wine with fish, we ordered a bottle of Tellus red wine (110 TL), which is a light and crispy dry wine produced by Prodom, a fairly new and successful Turkish winemaker. Also, Nur ordered a pre-dinner cocktail.. Agave Margarita (25 TL) which was very tasty but I forgot the ingredients and also forgot to take a picture.

We ordered 3 appetizers to start off with: Ahi Tuna (32 TL); Dynamite Combo (28 TL) and Asian Slaw (11 TL)

Ahi Tuna

Dynamite Combo

Asian Slaw

The Ahi Tuna was super and seared to perfection; the Dynamite Combo (Shrimp and Scallops) was D-Y-N-A-M-I-T-E (I alone could have had 2 more portions!) and although the Asian slaw had a little too much mayo, it was also quite good.

Next up were our mains...

Honey Shrimp
I'm happy to say we made another good choice by ordering the Honey Shrimp (44 TL)! The quality of the shrimp and sauce was incredible and the tastes burst in our mouths!

To accompany our main course, we ordered Veggie LoMein and Coconut Curry Tofu & Vegetables...

Coconut Curry Tofu & Vegetables

Veggie LoMein
You really can't go wrong (and shouldn't go wrong!) when ordering these types of popular side dishes at Chinese restaurants! Both were prepared to perfection and the vegetables in the coconut curry (28 TL) were not overcooked and LoMein's (24 TL) sauce was just right.

Although we couldn't get a good photograph of us taken by the waiter, I still wanted to add a "personal touch" and share the contented look on our faces during our meal!

Me (left), Nur (front right), Meltem (back right)
One of the great things about Chinese food is that you can eat, eat and eat and still have room for more food! I guess that's because there is no bread and you do wind up eating slower with chopsticks!

So, we did order dessert!

Banana Spring Roll
Although the dessert list was extensive with typical "western" desserts such as cheese cake, chocolate cake, etc. we opted for something a little more traditional! The Banana Spring Roll (18 TL) with vanilla ice cream was delicious and capped off our evening nicely!

But, we mustn't forget the fortune cookies - a must at Chinese Restaurants!

Our total bill for the evening came to 353 TL (without tip and it is customary to tip 10% in Turkey) after we ordered an espresso (6 TL), cappuccino (7 TL), green dragon tea (11 TL) and a bottle of water (9 TL).  Finally, I must add that the service was very good too and our waiter was friendly and very attentive!

Will I go back to P.F. Chang's? Definitely! Are there some problems they must resolve? Sure! But, at least most importantly - we personally thoroughly enjoyed the meal we had which is the most important thing as far as I'm concerned! Make sure to read my postscript too which includes some more information!

P.F. Chang's
Nispetiye Caddesi No. 94 Etiler
Tel: (0212) 358 60 60

Bon Apetit!

Stay well!


Postscript: I never got a chance to ask "what's up with the horses" at the entrance, but I am very curious but couldn't find info on them at P.F. Chang's USA website ! I will ask the next time I go. They are an eyesore, but very intriguing because we are talking about them, so an effective advertising tool!

We had a chance to talk to Ahmet Baran Ayla, the Business Manager of the venue as he was going from table to table to get feedback! Let's not forget that the restaurant opened only a short 2 weeks ago and of course they need some time to get everything in order. We mentioned the noise issue and he agreed and they are looking into some architectural changes to reduce the problem. It also turned out that he remembered me when I gave him my card as he used to be in the F&B Department at the Swissotel Istanbul and I remembered him too. He has a good head on his shoulders and I'm sure the necessary improvements will be made. We also mentioned the "no reservations" policy and that's another issue they plan on looking into and hopefully soon this too will change. Currently reservations for 8+ are accepted.

As I mentioned above, I didn't particularly like the decor and I also think their is an issue with the table "set-ups". Personally, I was staring at the wall all evening and not very happy! The venue has high ceilings and to make it look more spacious hanging a couple of mirrors on the walls would add depth and no one would have to stare at bare walls! I also wouldn't prefer to sit on the 2nd floor as the ceiling is much lower there. I also found out yesterday via another friend that there is a 3rd floor for small dinner parties. 

I ran into a couple of friends at dinner the same evening and also spoke to two other friends who had eaten there and got mixed reviews. One friend liked the place so much, that she was there 2 straight nights. The other friend was also very pleased with the meal they had which included a wide assortment of dishes and in fact, the "dynamite combo" was also their favorite. My other friend wasn't thrilled with the food they had that evening (mainly meat and chicken) and said the food was very salty (we didn't have the same problem and since I am not a "salt" fan, if our dishes were salty - I would have definitely said something). Another friend who had previously eaten there said she didn't feel very well the next day and I think we figured out the problem - MSG!!! MSG is commonly used to flavor Chinese food and it can have a reaction on a lot of people - including me! So, I suggest you ask that your dishes are prepared without MSG to be on the safe side.

All in all, P.F. Chang's is a nice addition to the Istanbul dining scene and I'm sure with time, the current problems will be easily resolved.


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