Thursday, March 09, 2006


I am tickled by the response to the new restaurant that opened less than two months ago on the far west side of Madison: PF Chang’s. Overheard: it’s okaaaaay. Too salty. Not as good as Muramoto.

Interesting perspectives.

Chang’s is a chain. In Madison, it is not cool to like chains. Okay, Whole Foods. You can admit to shopping at Whole Foods and people will forgive you. These days. And after shrugging apologetically, even serious types will tell you that they hang out at Borders.

But mention restaurant chains and the Inner Circle turns up the Inner Nose.

So why is it that yesterday, midweek, rainy and cold, Chang’s was packed, so packed in its huge space, that even those with reservations (us) had to wait? (Wee hoo, free apps as a result!)

Oh, I was initially put off by the huge stone horses at the entrance. Welcome, big crowds! You are now in Vegas! And my man Jason, who clips and colors with a mark of genius, just a parking lot away, shriveled his nose at the tofu when I asked for a lowdown . Too soggy, he tells me.

But others who have eaten at one of the many Chang’s outside the Midwest, brought in different reports and so three of us hiked west to give Chang’s a chance.

Oh there were imperfections: the wait, the forgetful waiter, the rain. Yes, the rain. I did not like being drenched on my way in or out. So there.

But the food was fine! Lettuce wraps, oolong marinated sea bass, black bean chicken. Main dishes hovering around twelve dollars.

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Oh we are such great critics, you and I! We all love to knock down everything in sight: places, spaces, people’s cv’s, food. Too salty, too imperfect. It has been done better elsewhere on the planet.

Yes, of course. I agree. And somewhere on this planet there is real spring and flowers are blooming and people are looking out their office spaces and witnessing something far brighter than this:

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today on Bascom Hill

I’ll pick small, earnest cooks and growers and producers over big guys most times. I’ll shove artisanal down your throat, I’ll preach the organic mantra. But I wont turn my back on a place that is packed with hungry people who, at the end of the evening, leave intending to come back. I’m one of them. Call me insane, but I am one who even loves a number of items on the Macaroni Grill menu (another maligned chain). I forgive the name there, just as I forgive the Vegas horses outside PF Chang’s. (I do not forgive the weather. Madison, get it together.)