When P.F. Chang’s reached out to me in March to let me know about their gluten-free menu expansion and invited me to try it out, I was dubious. Gluten-free is the least of my concerns as I'm wheat intolerant, not allergic.
Then, after we went through all of my food allergic needs and they came up with one entrée that was safe for me: Philip’s Better Lemon Chicken (with plain rice and sautéed spinach or sugar snaps peas), I was underwhelmed. Should I schlep all the way to White Plains for one dish?
Normally, I don’t patronize Asian or Asian-style restos. With fish and nut allergies and being wheat and soy intolerant, that’s usually the bulk of an Asian resto menu and it’s not fair for anyone to expect them to serve me safely and well. (Manage risk, rule number one).
But like you, I’ve heard great things about P.F. Chang’s since they started offering a gluten-free menu. I see their outposts when I travel to Florida or Atlantic City and have always wanted to try but felt very cautious. I decided to take a calculated risk (bringing safe back-up snacks and my medications, of course) and go to P.F. Chang’s to see how they accommodate the gluten-free and food allergic community.
I am really glad I did.
It was evident from the moment I walked in, that P.F. Chang’s has put thought and resources behind serving the gluten-free and food allergic community.
P.F. Chang’s Regional Chef Jim McCurley (he’s speaking at NRA show later this month on a GF panel) met me for lunch (Thanks Jim!) and I was able to see how the system works.
When the ticket comes in (marked allergy), a chef stops what they're doing (yes, really), and prepares the allergy/gluten-free meal. Here's a food allergy ticket (NB: I was with a peanut allergic person):
I watched as the chef put on new gloves, grabbed clean woks (labeled gluten-free - see below), clean towels and clean metal wok scrubbers (all from a separate area). He did a wash before the food even entered the area. Here's a beautifully clean gluten-free wok:
As for the food, each item is individually wrapped and that's for everyone, not just GF or allergy orders. Here are our individually wrapped protein portions:
Nuts are in the kitchen but they are individually portioned, in closed containers and they're prepped earlier in the day.
The raw ingredients (fruit, veg, proteins) are placed on different colored plates for GF/allergy orders and served on different shaped plates. All of this prep makes it very easy for a chef to grab uncontaminated items and make an uncontaminated dish. So systematic and makes it so easy for the back of house (line cooks, chefs, bussers and servers). Here's the chef, woking, fast and furious, ready to flash fry in fresh oil:
For the front of house (servers, managers) P.F. Chang’s has The Matrix. About a year ago, I was told, they hired an on-site dietitian. She went through each and every ingredient and put it into a computer system (commercial labels have to abide by FALCPA laws and say if they contain an allergen - that is computed, too). When a guest tells the server they can’t have say, peanuts, the server tells the manager who puts that into The Matrix. P.F. Chang’s Matrix spits out a personalized menu that is peanut-free for that day.
The menus and ingredients do change - so get a new Matrix every time you go.
I *love* this Matrix system. Here's my personalized Matrix for May 7, 2010:
So to the food. After all the back of house coolness and The Matrix hotness, the only dish that was safe for me was Philip’s Better Lemon Chicken, with veg and rice (you see some notes about ingredients on my Matrix). I rarely eat fried foods: one, contaminated fryers abound and two, well, I do have a figure to maintain. But here, they flash fry with fresh uncontaminated oil in your personal wok. I watched the chef do it. Fab! So I had the flash fried lemon chicken, which is dusted in potato starch, cooked with a little sugar, lemon juice, lemon slices and finished with sesame oil. I had to stop myself from becoming a little Allergic Girl piglet at the table it was so yum.
I wish there were more nut-free, fish-free, gluten-free, soy-free dishes for me to try and maybe there will be down the line. Certainly, if more of us request it, it will happen.
So upshot: On this inaugural visit, I was delighted with the system
P.F. Chang’s has in place to accommodate celiac, food intolerant and food allergic diners. I need to visit a few more times but I think this may be the beginning of a beautiful foodie friendship.
For further questions about their gluten-free program, The Matrix or anything else, I strongly urge you encourage you to contact P.F.Chang's directly through their website. Also, do your dining out with allergies/intolerance protocol like the one I outline here.
125 Westchester Avenue Space D315
White Plains, NY 10601