Dining out: Pei Wei

Published: Friday, April 8 2005 12:00 a.m. MDT

As someone who has enjoyed meals at P.F. Chang's China Bistro, I was intrigued to hear of Pei Wei Asian Diner, which bills itself as "a casual, new Asian-style restaurant by P.F. Chang's China Bistro."

That's the concept, at least. I hoped that, in reality, it meant the freshness of P.F. Chang's ingredients, an interesting environment and, above all, good lettuce wraps.

I wasn't disappointed. I got all that at a fun, funky restaurant that stands just fine on its own, out of the shadow of its more established sibling. In fact, its fresh food and affordability may vault it ahead of P.F. Chang's for budget-conscious diners and families.

I certainly felt comfortable herding my three daughters around Pei Wei's establishment in Sandy. There are good kids' meals, lidded cups, highchairs, the whole nine yards. Plus a few extra yards in the form of a cheerful, musically noisy atmosphere and fun little touches such as canisters of chopsticks at the table, plastic chopstick holders to help the kids use them and a huge serve-yourself basket of fortune cookies.

But this isn't just a family joint. The mix of traditional Asian and modern touches — woks and bamboo cooking utensils hanging next to sleek, red pendant lights over the kitchen, a smiling maneki neko good-luck cat watching over the utensils and drinks station — gives the place a fresh but sophisticated vibe that would work for dates or even casual business lunches.

Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Mongolian and Thai influences are prominent on the menu, befitting a relative of P.F. Chang's, but the result is distinctly flavored individual dishes that are respectful of the culinary traditions of the nations they represent.

We started with a plate of edamame and, of course, minced chicken lettuce wraps. The edamame were incredibly fresh, and the kids had a good time pushing the bright green beans out of the pod and dipping them in the dish of flaky sea salt that accompanied them.

And the wraps followed in the proud tradition of P.F. Chang's, featuring a plate of rough-minced chicken, shiitake mushrooms, water chestnuts and scallions in a slightly spicy soy sauce. The melange rested on crispy rice noodles, ready to scoop into a perfectly fresh, crisp lettuce leaf. We also shared a cup of savory-sour wonton soup packed with stuffed wontons and veggies.

For dinner, my husband had what I call his "Asian default meal," the chicken teriyaki. In this case, it's a good choice — a generous helping of lean chicken, just a little crunchy, in a sauce that's sweet, as expected, but with dark, even-burnt undertones of garlic and seasoning. The chicken was served over rice with onion, cabbage, carrots, scallions and a sprinkling of black sesame seeds.

I tried a signature dish, the Asian coconut curry. This creamy, spicy, coconut-infused green curry featured shrimp (my choice of meat) with whole leaves of Thai basil, red bell pepper, onion and skinny, long green beans. I had it over brown rice, which added nutty heft to the dish.

My girls enjoyed both the kids' version of teriyaki chicken, minus the veggies and sesame seeds, and the honey-seared crispy chicken, a tasty version of sweet-and-sour with crisp-breaded chicken soaked in sweet sauce.

Appetizers $1.95-$6.95, salads $5.95-$6.95, rice and noodle bowls $6-$7, signature dishes $6.75-$9, kids' meals $3.45-$3.95


Rating: ***

Where: 10373 S. State, Sandy (601-1990)

1028 E. 2100 South (907-2030)

Hours: Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.

Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.

Payment: No checks accepted

Web: www.peiwei.com


Stacey Kratz is a free-lance writer who reviews restaurants for the Deseret Morning News. E-mail: skratz@desnews.com

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