wei over seasoned

The owners of P.F. Chang's (the "upscale" chinese restaurant chain whose food doesn't live up to its forced pretentiousness) recently opened Pei Wei in Cherry Hill. This establishment bills itself as an "Asian diner" - a unique concept for South Jersey, a region inundated with cookie cutter chinese/japanese fare. The interior shares a similar style to Chang's with lots of reds, golds and dark wood - a rich palette contrasted nicely with framed black and white slice of life photos of China. I suppose these photos are meant to establish some authenticity. There is a long bar where one can sit and observe the chefs cooking in front - but nobody was seated there by the hostess. Maybe we aren't supposed to examine what the cooks were actually doing. Anyhow, we place an order up front at the register and wait for our food to be served at our numbered table.

The menu offers various Chinese, Korean, Thai and Vietnamese dishes - all fairly basic and suitably Americanized for its location. I ordered the spring rolls for appetizer and the Mongolian beef, while my wife sampled the Pad Thai. Spring rolls were decent but both of our entrees were totally over-seasoned. It was so salty that I discovered new veins in my forehead throbbing from my blood pressure going through the roof. My wife comes from the Japanese school of minimal seasoning with the belief that over seasoning distracts from the natural flavor of the food. Too much oil actually disrupts her stomach. So as you can imagine, she wasn't enjoying her Pad Thai at all. She kept mixing the noodles furiously in a futile attempt to dilute the heavy flavors. I looked around for sympathy. The family near us was eating it up and adding hot sauce. On our other side, the waitress was recommending one dish because it has so many flavors going on. Yeah, don't forget to recommend 20 glasses of water with that. I did see one couple leave with their dishes half-eaten. So we weren't alone.

My hunger actually overrode my health concerns and I nearly finished my Mongolian beef. I did walk out craving water. The only other time I crave water is after a dehydrating 5 mile run. Funny thing is I was more disappointed by P.F. Changs because it was pricey and faux-pretentious. Yes, Pei Wei was over-seasoned beyond belief...but it was cheap...and thus a sub-par meal more easy to swallow...or forget.


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