The Myth of Chinese Restaurants, Parts One & Two
My mother-in-law loves PF Chang’s so we took her there this weekend for Mother’s Day. I’m not really complaining since it beats the hippie breakfast place we usually go to, where the food is stuck in an aryuvedic-lite 1970s time warp without spice, garlic, butter or anything else that makes food worth eating. But since we live in the Bay Area, where there are a plethora of outstanding Chinese eateries of every stripe and price point, it seems a bit odd to me to willingly frequent a place like PF Chang’s. However, my mother-in-law is eighty and she isn’t Chinese or a very adventuresome eater so to take her to, say, Fook Yuen or Koi Palace for shark fin soup and sea cucumber would probably be a wasted effort. Hell, I don’t even like sea cucumber and as far as I know I’m full-blooded Chinese.
Amusingly enough, PF Chang’s seems to be a favorite of idiotic teen idol Miley Cyrus, who held the afterparty for the premiere of her recent Hannah Montana flick at a Los Angeles Chang’s and who takes her boytoys to the one in Burbank as well. However, Miley’s a fickle customer, recently claiming on Jay Leno’s show that the wonton soup at Chang’s tasted like soap. Maybe some of the kitchen help were staging a bit of payback for Cyrus infamously pulling the “chink eye” a few months back?
Anyways, I’m sure if I were in some part of the world where Chinese people and our accompanying restaurants were few and far between, I might swoon for the sight of PF Chang’s. The menu actually does include some decent dishes and the tea selection isn’t bad. It’s not unlike the drive-thru Starbucks on the interstate—you wouldn’t normally be caught dead inside a ‘Bucks in a coffee-snob-land like San Francisco but when you come across one in the vast wasteland of Highway 5, you’re damn grateful for that mocha frappuccino. Likewise, if I were in the middle of non-Asian America and really wanted a plate of potstickers and some passable dandan noodles, I’d be more than happy to eat at PF Chang’s. But I’m also pretty glad that I don’t have to do that very often, since I live in the heart of Chinese restaurant heaven—now if only I could get my mother-in-law to like fatty pork and bitter melon.
I had a brush with the legend of another famous quasi-Chinese restaurant when I was in Southern California last week for the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, which was kind enough to screen my latest short experimental video, Snapshot: Six Months of the Korean American Male. I stayed with my pal Gary, whom I’ve known for a couple decades since our misadventures as grad students at the Art Institute in Chicago. Gary wisely dropped out after a semester and eventually moved to LA, where he’s now working in television as a 1st AD and producer. His most recent assignment was interviewing the divine Hugh Jackman, whom Gary confirmed was both astoundingly hot and extremely nice as a person.
Anyways, Gary told me that Andrew and Peggy Cherng, the founders of Panda Express, owned a townhouse in the very same complex that I was now visiting and that, up until recently, one of the Cherng’s daughters had lived in the unit. One day a couple years ago Gary came home to find his street clogged with police cruisers—apparently Mr. Cherng had been by to visit and had surprised a couple kidnappers in the midst of abducting his daughter. Luckily the fiftysomething Cherng had managed to fight off the perps and save his daughter from an evil fate.
Soon after that the daughter moved out, but Gary thinks the Cherngs might have kept the place as a rental property, despite having a net worth in the millions (the Panda Express in Honolulu brings in $4 million annually). Weirdly enough, I wouldn’t be surprised if this were true. My dad always told me that real estate is the best type of investment (thank god he didn’t live to see the subprime meltdown), and didn’t the husband in The Good Earth keep ranting about the significance of “the land” all the time? Maybe the Cherngs are just hedging their bets in case some disaster befalls their fast food empire someday.
Entry filed under: Uncategorized. Tags: chinese restaurants, los angeles asian pacific american film festival, miley cyrus, panda express, pf chang's, snapshot: six months of the korean american male, the good earth.