We got totally P.F. Chang-ed

The grandiose American chain doesn’t have the greatest rep, so we tested it on ourselves by consuming as much as of their Asian grub and tiki drinks as possible.


The bar at P.F. Chang’s Montreal

A great guffaw rang through Montreal’s culinary community earlier this year when it was announced that pre-brand change la Cage, makers of the city’s blandest franchise food by a longshot, was purchasing P.F. Chang’s flagging local contingent. The move seem to confirm what we all suspected: Another big American brand that came in with bluster, but couldn’t understand the intricacies of our market. The sense was P.F. Chang’s in Quebec, currently with two locations, is on borrowed time.

Chang's mai tai
Chang’s mai tai

The only thing is, P.F. Chang’s isn’t some test Papa John’s in Laval the size of a broom closet. The Asian fusion resto is a relatively pricey sit-down affair, with visual flourishes — think stallion statues and giant chandeliers – that are more aligned with casino faux-fancy than Yankee fast food, or worse, Yankee casual dining. P.F. Chang’s also has a couple of emphatic regulars at Cult MTL, who have spent the last few months persuading me to put my prejudices aside and give it a go.

In defence of my P.F. Chang’s loving colleagues, there’s a bus that takes them directly from their Mile Ex condo to the slightly concealed Décarie location near the Namur metro parking lot. It’s like being in the nice part of the suburbs, they said, without actually being in the suburbs. It’s the sort of spacious joint one might take their risk-averse parents. P.F. Chang’s Quebec is also supposedly not quite to the level of the American version, which has been kicking around since 1993.

So after a few months of cajoling, I finally agreed to go. The aspect that pushed me over the edge was the cocktails, which I was assured would be stiffly poured. With Jardin Tiki gone, brazenly boozy tiki bar concoctions are hard to come by in Montreal — le Mal Nécessaire is great but a little too refined — so to my delight, the mai tais de Chang, Asian pear mojitos and piña coladas were sweet and strong to all-inclusive resort levels. After one or two, the decently filled resto started to look a little more exotic from our rowdy communal table. You wouldn’t know the place is struggling based on the talkative, helpful staff, either.


Spicy tuna sushi

Then came the grub, which the three of us ordered with the intent of sharing. It started with spicy dragon sushi: warm crab and cream cheese makis topped with spicy tuna. Given its own separate menu, the sushi certainly looked like a gimmick on the surface, but in reality, it made for a sensible appetizer — certainly on par with the city’s all-you-can-eat California roll fare, and maybe slightly better when one takes into account the visual presentation.

Next up was the most curious selection of the night: Kung Pow chicken tacos, which we tried in lieu of Chang’s famed lettuce wraps and was the sort of ill-conceived Asian-American experimentation one might expect from a place like this. The flimsy jicama tortillas didn’t bring much to the dish and the unnecessary inclusion of water chestnuts provided no payoff.


Jicama kung pao chicken tacos

After the tacos, we got back to basics with a giant multi-meat fried rice plate that was astonishingly simple and devoid of artifice. It wasn’t greasy in the slightest, either. The buddha’s feast provided some necessary crunchy mixed greens with a light shiny glaze, while the obligatory noodle plate didn’t make me swear off Chinatown forever. It reinforced the notion that if P.F. Chang’s is competing with inexpensive, authentic Chinatown offerings, then it won’t prevail. It has to carve out its niche as a lively, closer alternative to a night at the casino’s upstairs restaurant. Those were the vibes I got, for better or for worse.


Fried rice combo

At some point we ordered extra P.F. Chang sauce, which based on my after-meal activities must have been soy sauce mixed with sleeping aids. After an evening of gorging and conversation, I ambled around the quiet parking lot to work off the fatigue that had set in. After eating sushi, tacos and fried rice in the same meal, the tiny patch of grass on the nearby street corner looked awfully inviting. P.F. Chang’s may not have totally won me over, but it did put me in a food coma so heavy I’m surprised I remember being there at all. 

P.F. Chang’s (5485 rue des Jockeys), 514-731-2020