Sunday, December 16, 2012
Dinner at P.F. Chang's
Dinner last night was at P.F. Chang's. Ma Lei kept asking "where are the Chinese people?" There were none: not on the staff, not in the kitchen, and certainly not eating there.
We ordered Mahi Mahi, a broccoli/chicken stir-fry, and an eggplant dish, along with a side of fried green beans and two starters: crunchy lettuce rolls, and something called fiery wontons. It all looked lovely, but none of it got Ma Lei's approval. The eggplant was approximating tolerable, but everything else was at perhaps the McDonald's level in her eyes. I understood her criticism, but to me the food was okay.
My mom had called ahead to tell them that this was Ma Lei's first meal in America, so we got a bit of royal treatment. Two managers came over to welcome her to the restaurant and ask how the food was. She was polite, if not truthful.
The first manager said "Welcome to America! That's 'nin hao,' right?" That's not quite right, but he was close enough to elicit a friendly laugh from Ma Lei. ("Nin hao" is "hello." "Welcome" is "huangying.") After he'd left, Ma Lei laughed about the manager of a Chinese restaurant barely knowing how to say "hello" in Mandarin.
The managers comped us a free dessert of coconut ice cream with fried bananas and other mixed fruit. Ma Lei correctly predicted that this would taste good, since it wasn't Chinese food. She wondered aloud why they didn't comp the whole meal. I suspect if word got out they'd done that, tomorrow evening everybody with a yellow face in Chicago would be lining up with fake Chinese accents to collect their free meal!
Ma Lei has a way of being bluntly honest yet gracious about her disapproval. She kept saying (in Chinese) "this is terrible," then (in English) "Sorry! Sorry!" with a big apologetic smile. As we left the restaurant, though, she suggested that she'd rather stick with American food while she's in America.