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Chang, Party of 8

February 26, 2006

Had a lovely dinner last night at P.F. Chang’s. It’s new in Madison, having opened up out past the Beltline from University avenue. It’s a chain, and they style themselves as a ‘China Bistro’. They do ‘call aheads’, which was appreciated given the size of our group. We got there a little ahead of time, but didn’t end up seated at our table until about 25 minutes after our allotted time. I can hardly blame them: the place was packed. The old saw about ‘restaurants per capita’ may not be true here in the Mad-town, but even so we Madisonians really like eating out. Since the place is reasonably new, it’s apparently been wall-to-wall people for the last three weeks or so.

They alleviated the slight annoyance factor by providing a free appetizer to the table once we were seated. Chang’s Chicken in Soothing Lettuce Wraps, are apparently the freebie payoff of choice for long-waiting guests. Essentially a mash of small chicken pieces with green onions, garlic, mushrooms, and some sauce, the mixture is intended to be eaten inside a bowl-shaped piece of lettuce. Most of us found eating it like a taco to be the best approach. I was told by Alan that they have really good crab racoons, so my end of the table also tried the Crab Wontons. Very crabby, just a little spicy, and served with a hearty sweet-and-sour sauce. Very good.

For my entree, I had their take on Kung Pao Shrimp. No hyperbole, It was probably the finest interpretation of the dish I’ve had in a restaurant. The shrimp were large, and served very simply with chilis, peanuts, and green onions. The dish, eaten with some white rice, was one of the finest chinese dining experiences I’ve had in Madison (a place regrettably not known for its Chinese cuisine). Katie had the Wok-Seared Lamb. An extremely tender dish, it was served (also simply) with lettuce and seasame oil.

We totally won dinner last night. The atmosphere was very corporate-China, and the restaurant was packed and loud, but the food made the trip well worth it. I’ve been unimpressed by many of the new chains opening here in the city (Cheeseburger in Paradise, Quaker Steak and Lube, Claddagh), but this one managed to impress with service and quality food even on an extremely busy night. I’m looking forward to going again.

We did end up getting to watch the Ice Skating exhibition last night, and it was a nice and quiet affair. It was neat being able to see the competitors so stressfree. Today is the last day of the games, and I’m already missing them. I’m going to have to make sure to watch the closing ceremony tonight for more surreal impressionism and to say fairwell to archfoe Bob Costas for another four years.

Tonight we have game. Here’s hoping I can live up to the awesomeness of Shackled City: Chapter Five.

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