Friday, November 17, 2006

PEIWEI - the Asian Diner

Score: 9 with a big smile

My first impression of this Asian diner was very nice.

First of all, I have to say I loved the interior design. The designer sure knows how to create a pleasant atmosphere. It’s such an elegant environment while not lacking a bit of the passionate persona with an open kitchen. You just can’t stop eating and feeling good in that kind of place. Would go back just for this part of it.

Now comes back to the food. I ordered Mongolian Beef and my friend Joe Bob ordered Spicy Korean Vegetables and Tofu. We both had fried rice and shared these two dishes, with a side of Crispy Pot Stickers.

The food was quite good and plenty. I especially liked the way the beef was cooked. Very tender, juicy, and flavorful with the compliment of fresh green onion. I was pleasantly surprised with the Spicy Korean Tofu + Veggies—for which dried Tofu was used—something different than your regular Fuchow take out. However, deep fried tofu or a smoked variety may be a better choice. Not a healthier one but, hey…who am I kidding?

The stuffing for the pot stickers deserves some special attention. Hands down it is the best in town and it is very, very authentic. Nonetheless I would prefer pan fried over deep dried like they were cooked, because without the golden crispy crust at the bottom to die for, they just aren’t really pot stickers …

I have to say the chef was a bit too heavy on the sauce, which could be overwhelming. Less sauce or lighter sauce would allow us to better observe the beautiful flavor and testure of the ingredients themselves. My friend Joe Bob and I both agreed that the sauce was a tad too starchy, which was fine when the food was presented hot, but thickened and starchened shortly afterwards.

Simply put, attracitve, classy, and not too expensive. Just remember to get there early.

How do I get there?

Little Rock - University Heights Address:
Pei Wei Asian Diner
205 North University Ave
University Heights
Little Rock, AR 72205

Phone: (501) 280-9423
Pei Wei Take Away: (501) 280-9423
Fax: (501) 280-0856

Pei Wei

Mid Town Mall, Markham and University, Little Rock, Arkansas

An offshoot of P.F. Chang’s, Pei Wei is the fast-food version of the former, but priced as an upscale restaurant. Lunch for two was twenty five dollars.

When you come in you place your order and pay, much as you would at a deli. They hand you a number and a cup for you to fix your own drink and find a table. Suggestion: for lunch, get there before 11:30. The line was out the front door and tables were at a premium. As it is there is barely room to slide sideways between the tables and shoehorn yourself into a seat, I almost sat on a purse that belonged to the lady at the next table. And we could intimately listen to their conversation the entire meal.

We started off with a small order of potstickers (4) that came crisply fried and with a dipping sauce that had some spice to it. I was glad to see that they weren’t afraid to add heat. The iced tea was “Chai Tea, black tea with a hint of cinnamon and vanilla.” More than a hint, I’m afraid, and I would have liked to have had a plain tea as an option.

Shortly afterwards, a server brought us out a plate of Spicy Korean style vegetables and tofu. The flavor was good, but I think the “spicy” part was toned down for the American market. One nice touch that I thought showed excellent training on the part of the staff was that since I ordered a non-meat entree with fried rice, the counter girl asked if I was a vegetarian, so that they could give me fried rice without meat in it. Certainly a higher level of service and training than you normally encounter in a restaurant.

This dish was followed up by the plate of Mongolian Beef that my friend ordered. I could immediately tell this was the signature beef that I remember from P.F. Chang’s. Very, very tender and savory. That’s one thing these chains do quite well and that’s beef. There was just the expected amount of heat in this dish, though it seemed a bit sweet and the sauces were quite heavy.

In fact, as I continued to eat, the sauces in both dishes started having an unpleasant texture in the mouth. I’m certain that was due to too much corn starch. Lighter sauces and a tad more fire would enhance these dishes greatly.

All in all, I came away full, impressed with the staff and service, but somewhat wishing that I had gone to Chi’s and gotten a big bowl of Ma Po Tofu.