Thursday, October 18, 2007

Restaurant Review - Pei Wei Asian Diner, 3011 E. Colonial Drive, Orlando, FL

Pei Wei Asian DinerPei Wei (pronounced "Pay Way") is P.F. Chang's foray into the fast casual restaurant market. There is only one Pei Wei restaurant currently in the Orlando area but I heard from a server that more are coming soon. Also, if you are a fan of P.F. Chang's (see my review here), then you will recognize several of the same dishes on the menu at Pei Wei, such as Dan Dan Noodles and Ginger Broccoli.

The decor inside Pei Wei will also remind you of P.F. Chang's but is a bit more "casual". Menu boards are listed, sedately, on the left as soon as you walk in, and a sign directs you to please order at the counter to the left before proceeding to a table in the dining area ahead. Every time we visited Pei Wei, it was pretty crowded so that is probably to ensure that those who have already ordered have seating available to them. The menu is broken out into appetizers, entree salads, noodle and rice dishes, and signature dishes. Salads and noodle/rice dishes are from $6.50 to $7.50 and the signature dishes run from $7 to $9 depending on what kind of meat you choose. Kids meals are $3.95 with a drink ($3.45 without) and offer a choice of a chicken dish (teriyaki, honey seared or lo mein) and accompaniment (white rice, brown rice, or egg noodles).

On our first visit, I ordered an appetizer of crab wontons (4 for $3.95), chicken lo mein for my boys, and Mongolian chicken for me ($7.50). One interesting thing at Pei Wei is that almost half of the dishes are marked spicy... and apparently most cannot be changed to mild. [Strangely, the Pad Thai is marked as spicy too and cannot be changed. I've never heard of a spicy version of Pad Thai. I ordered it on a subsequent visit and it was more mild/medium than really spicy. My biggest complain with the Pad Thai was with the very large hunks of tofu in it, not the spiciness.] I guess that the sauces are prepared in advance and cannot be made morePei Wei's Pad Thai - a bit too much tofu mild? Such is the sacrifice of eating in a fast casual restaurant rather than a full-service one.

After ordering, I was handed a round red disk with a number on it and was told to attach it to our table. I then went up to get our drinks at the self-serve fountain. LB asked for fruit punch while BB asked for sweet iced tea. Pei Wei offers up some unusual fresh-brewed iced tea flavors. One was Mandarin Orange Green Tea and the other was Vanilla Spice Chai Tea. I got myself and BB the Green Tea. There were even slices of orange to place in your tea which I thought was a nice touch. BB gave the tea a thumbs down so he ended up with fruit punch as well. I very much enjoyed the green tea - it was very light and almost floral tasting.

Pei Wei does a really nice job in the dining room area. Each table is prepped by a server as soon as the previous occupants leave. They completely clean the table and floor area and then restock theTwo remaining pieces of Crab Wontons wooden chopsticks, appetizer plates, and napkins. It was nice to see so much commitment to cleanliness. Situated at the top of the chopstick holder is a clip for your numbered disk so the servers can find you and unite you with your food. Pretty much as soon as we sat down, a server came by with our crab wontons. These are really crab rangoons - crispy fried wonton wrappers filled with crab and cream cheese. The wontons were served on a sea of very spicy red sauce, again a surprise as I've usually had them with something similar to sweet & sour sauce. However, after I scraped the sauce off the bottom of the wontons, the boys ate them up, especially BB. In fact, both boys ate two each before I got to try any so I sent BB up to order some more. That order came quickly as well and I was able to try the crab wontons.Pei Wei Mongolian Chicken Very creamy but with a Pei Wei Kids Chicken Lo Meindefinite crab presence as well and the wrapper was perfectly crisp.

Soon our meals were delivered to the table. The boys received a very nice size portion of grilled chicken with the lo mein noodles. They did very well and almost finished their meals. My Mongolian chicken was fantastic with a slightly sweet garlic sauce and large chunks of mushrooms with the white meat chicken. We've already been back to Pei Wei several times and each time our meals have been delicious. This is a great place for a quick, high quality Asian-style meal.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Restaurant Updates for Winter Garden Village at Fowler's Grove

I've been spending a lot of time at the new mall in Winter Garden, now that Target and several other stores have opened already. As for restaurants, only McDonald's and Quizno's have opened so far. However, it looks like they are putting the finishing touches on the Chili's, Macaroni Grill, Longhorn, Mimi's Cafe, and First Watch (a breakfast/brunch restaurant). I also just discovered signs that say a Bonefish Grill will be opening here soon, next to where the Barnes & Noble is going to be. The directory also said an Urban Flats (a flatbread restaurant) will be coming.

My one concern is parking for the restaurants. While the larger stores like Target, Best Buy and Lowe's appear to have lots of parking, the restaurants look like they will have very few spots. In fact, the Bonefish Grill is located in the "historical walk" section of the outdoor mall with no dedicated parking - I foresee that will be a problem. One curious thing is the non-existent development of the Cracker Barrel restaurant. While the other restaurants have all been at least started, the space where the Cracker Barrel is supposed to go is still an empty field. It hasn't even been cleared. However, it is still listed on the mall directory so I don't know what the delay is.

In other Winter Garden new restaurant news, construction of a small retail center has started at the southwest corner of 545 and Hartwood Marsh (due west of the new mall). Signs indicate a Caribbean, Japanese, and NYPD Pizza restaurant are coming soon. The owners of the NYPD Pizza restaurant contacted me and said they hope to be open in December.

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