Sunday, October 6, 2013

Pei Wei Asian Diner Food Review

Wok Fresh Entrée - Steak, Mongolian style 

It's about time. For years, eating Asian fast-food meant lurking over a massive buffet bar or (shudder) stopping by Panda Express. That all changed last year with the advent of Pei Wei Asian DinerP.F. Changs' fast casual offshoot. Pei Wei finally made it to the nation's capital last month, and I couldn't be happier (or more impressed.)

Pei Wei took up shop at the popular 1200 block of 18th Street, bookmarked by Daily Grill and Shake Shack. In fact, it's right next door to one of my other favorite fast casuals Nando's Peri-Peri: I say other, because "the new kid on the block" has already won me over after just one visit. Asian food doesn't seem to be nearly as popular in DC as you might expect: Pei Wei could single-handedly change that.

It begins with a smart, upscale look and extends to magnificent customer service. I stopped by on a Saturday night just before 7:00 PM; and was warmly greeted, and asked if this was my first visit. From there, I received several hearty recommendations... at least of two of which, I accepted and ordered. The setup looks intimating at first; but it's really no different than most places. You can go light (lettuce wraps, salads or soup) or move up to an affordable entrée with lots and lots of options. Choose a protein, rice (or noodle) then a flavor profile. I went with a small (perfectly sized for one) Mongolian Style Steak for just $6.89. This comes with a nice portion of brown rice and steak (awash in sweet soy sauce) then covered in garlic, mushrooms and vibrantly-colored scallions. I tacked on a 2-piece "Perfect Addition" of Crab Wontons for a mere $1.99, a large fountain drink (another $1.99) and a Snickerdoodle cookie ($.99) for dessert. All this for $13.05. Sweet!

Crab Wontons

Speaking of sweet, did I mention that Pei Wei uses the Coca-Cola Freestyle dispenser? I absolutely have to get one of these for my apartment. After some painful deliberation, I opted for Dasani grape-flavored water (yum) and took a seat at the front counter, overlooking busy 18th Street. I was amazed at how fast my food arrived (wok cooking rocks) and extra pleased that it was delivered with a smile and a good wish. So far, customer service = A+.

The Crab Wontons were beautifully presented on their own plate, bathed in sweet chili sauce. Nice and crispy, they held an equally sweet mixture of crab, cream cheese and bell peppers. They're good for two bites per, and I'll definitely boost my next order to 4 for $3.89. My entree was generously sized and piping hot. The rice was slightly overdone, but otherwise it was a terrific plate of food. The steak was nice & soft, and loaded with flavor. It's a lot of food; and I even had to leave some rice on my plate. The next size up is only $2.10 more; but I'd only consider that for sharing with another person (which is exactly what my friendly order taker told me, and the next dozen or so customers.)

Free fortune cookies!

Customer service was stellar throughout the evening, and not just for me. Everyone who came in (even a few folks who were just "checking out the menu") was greeted enthusiastically and professionally. I overheard lots of laughing (customers and staff... the way it should be) and at least two customers who already knew that this was part of P.F. Changs (good news travels fast.) When I was done, another nice employee came by, asked if she could take my plates away. She followed that up with, 'How was it?" and "Glad you enjoyed it." Small details make really good places great, and that's the case with Pei Wei. They even have fortune cookies available by the door. Mine read, "Your luck will completely change today.' It did, and for the better... thanks to Pei Wei's excellent first impression. Here's to many return visits!