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Valley Life | restaurant review

Linked to Success

Valley's P.F. Chang's offers diners fine food the chain is known for.

October 06, 2000|MAX JACOBSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Paul Fleming has Ruth's Chris Steak House and his own Fleming's Steak House on his resume, but it is success with the P.F. Chang's China Bistro chain that has made him an industry big shot. At peak hours, the lines at the new one in the Woodland Hills Promenade snake clear over to the movie theater.

Well, it's a handsome place, punctuated by great white circular overhead reflectors that look like surreal lily pads, spotted with scroll paintings and faux terra-cotta statues. More important, the chain's food has been getting better and better. Well-known chef and Chinese cookbook author Barbara Tropp has consulted with the company, so we know they are serious about authenticity.

Dishes still suffer from occasional excess (Chang's spareribs have way too much sticky red sauce), but many items have been tightened up. Take the salt-and-pepper calamari or the shell-on shrimp, both fried perfectly golden and crisp.

I like the lean Northern-style spareribs, dusted with five-spice powder. The delicious steamed shrimp dumplings have a nice shrimp filling and a good ginger-chile-soy sauce to splash on them.

In the salad section, the warm duck salad would be a basically OK green salad if you removed the rock-hard chunks of deep-fried duck. By contrast, the cold cucumber salad needs something more. The big cold pieces of cucumber are well lubricated with sesame oil, but they'd be truly interesting if there were a little fire--say, some crushed red pepper.

The main dishes are erratic. One knocks your socks off, the next is a giant plate of sauce and meat in which the salient ingredient is cornstarch.

The dish listed as Philip's better lemon chicken--deep-fried chicken with thick yellow sauce clinging to it--isn't too bad. The spicy ground chicken and eggplant, however, is wretched. It consists mostly of brown sauce with bits of chicken and oily sliced eggplant mixed in. (This is the kind of dish that misses by a mile here but will be flawless in the average Chinese family-run dive.)

The usual suspects are in residence, and most of them are just fine. Kung pao chicken is done well, although I personally like more peanuts and fewer fagara peppers in mine. Sichuan-style long beans are also quite good.

The long thin beans are stir-fried with preserved radish in a nicely piquant sauce. This is the sort of dish that makes you think that sometimes corporations actually do listen to their consulting chefs.

BE THERE

P.F. Chang's China Bistro, 21821 Oxnard St., Woodland Hills. Open 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-midnight Friday-Saturday. Parking in lot. Full bar. All major cards. Dinner for two, $23-$45. Suggested dishes: salt-and-pepper calamari, $6.95; shrimp dumplings, $6.95; kung pao chicken, $9.95; Sichuan-style long beans, $5.95. Call (818) 340-0491.

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