The chefs at P.F. Chang’s create fresh and inventive Chinese cuisine served with island-style hospitality on a daily basis. With more than 200 locations across the U.S. and more around the globe, you might think it’s a basic chain restaurant—but then you would be wrong.
“Many people don’t realize that we are a scratch kitchen, down to the marinades of our meat to the make up of our sauces and our handmade dim sum,” explains Paris Valentino, director of operations. “Our sauces are composed of dozens of ingredients and some dishes require three different sauces. Our flavors aren’t found in other Chinese restaurants and our food cannot be replicated in home kitchens due to the nature of what is needed.” He adds that a lot of hours are spent prepping ingredients and sauces for dishes to be executed quickly and properly.
Valentino explains that because dishes are composed of many ingredients and sauces, balance is crucial and any deviation from the restaurant’s strict standards results in dishes that are either too sweet or too spicy. “I believe our vision and standards produce the very best that Chinese cuisine can offer,” he states.
The 2,000-year-old tradition of wok cooking is also honored and celebrated by P.F. Chang’s. All woks are seasoned just like cast iron pans, and reach temperatures up to 500 degrees, so every chef could very well be considered a wok master.
This new year will bring a revamping of the main menu. “It will have a new look and an array of different dishes,” shares Valentino. “We’ll be losing some classics, but overall, I think there will be a better variety of choices for our visitors and residents. It’s important for our menu to be unique and exclusive since Hawai‘i is such a diverse location and destination.”
Speaking of the menu, we ask about Valentino’s personal favorites. “I love our Mongolian Surf & Turf,” he states assuredly. “Our Mongolian sauce is simple, but the trick to one of the most successful dishes within the brand is the texture of the meat with the caramelization of the sauce. It’s easily burned if not careful, but is one of the most sought-after dishes on our menu. Beef and shrimp are the proteins, and it’s wonderful.”
Valentino recommends the VIP Duck as the perfect starter dish for sharing—the duck breast and thigh are served together with bao buns and three different sauces. The Kim Chee Fried Rice entree incorporates a cooking method that can only be found in Hawai‘i.
“I can’t even pronounce the Korean sauces in this dish,” says Valentino, “but it’s got three flavor profiles with sweet, tangy and spicy. I also love the rice. It’s a unique combination of flavors.”
Hopefully these dishes will still be on the menu when you stop by!
“Our culinary team works incredibly hard each and every day to ensure the flavor, texture, aroma and taste exceed the expectations of our guests,” shares Valentino.
Recently stepping into the shoes of director of operations at P.F. Chang’s Waikiki, Valentino knows the single most important factor for success. It’s the people.
“People make the difference,” he says matter of factly. “From our employees to our guests. It’s important to me that our employees are happy in what they do; to be here day in and day out providing exceptional service in hospitality and culinary.”
Valentino says he incorporates a quote from Howard Behar, the now retired president of Starbucks Coffee Company: “We’re in the people business serving coffee, not the coffee business serving people.”
“I apply that to our day-to-day operations because every day we have guests from every corner of the world, and their expectations are so different,” shares Valentino. “For us to be successful, we need to engage with our guests and guide them through our menu. Our food is the easy part. How we treat and interact with our guests is what will set us apart from everyone else.”
Hawaii-born Chef Grant Kawasaki has also created a sushi menu featuring fresh ingredients that include kaiware sprouts, enoki mushrooms and wasabi aioli in a variety of sushi rolls pleasing to the eye as they are to the palate.
P.F. Chang’s also features Happy Hour food and beverage specials 4-6 p.m. daily. The Blueberry Mojito is their signature drink, made with New Amsterdam Vodka, Kinky Blue mixed with Sprite, limes and blueberries, topped with a mint sprig.
Paris Valentino’s suggestions for your next P.F. Chang’s dining experience:
• Make a reservation and request a railing outside table for the evening. The Waikīkī weather is ideal and the atmosphere at 7 p.m. is lively.
• Waikīkī is known for tropical drinks, and our Waikiki Mai Tai is a perfect start. The Chicken Lettuce Wraps and Peking Dumplings (Pan-Seared) are must-haves for appetizers. They’re a great combo for texture and flavor.
• I would highly recommend switching to a local beer and/or glass of wine for the main course. Beer and wine pair better with food than cocktails. I would order the Chang’s Spicy Chicken, Mongolian Surf & Turf, P.F. Chang’s Fried Rice Combo, and a side of the Sichuan Green Beans. Let your server know to bring you “special sauce and chili paste” and place a little bit of each on the fried rice, and thank me later. You’ll have the perfect balance of flavors, starch, protein and vegetables.
• Finish off with the Banana Spring Rolls or Great Wall of Chocolate and a double espresso for the walk around the tiki torch Waikīkī promenade. That is definitely a memorable experience and a fine evening.
“From beginning to end,” says Valentino, “our guests will experience great service, a lively atmosphere and wonderful food. These are the makings for a lovely dining experience.”