Event - Pei Wei Summer Menu Tasting

Here's a pretty familiar scenario: "Have you eaten here yet, Minerva?" "No...sorry." Insert sheepish grin. I would have to attribute it to my having been away for school from the Orange County area. Upon my return, I was a penny-pinching recent college graduate so even then, I didn't spend much on eating out. Additionally, I love cooking so I eat in a fair amount of times. So unfortunately, I haven't been to a lot of places that people may find as OC staples. One of which would be the seemingly ubiquitous chain of Pei Wei Asian Diner (operated by P.F. Chang's). I hadn't been but was recently sent a card to give them a try so I dragged coworkers by one lunch.

The true purpose was to give the new summer menu items a try but it happened to also be my first exposure to the eatery. Of all the new items, the ones we actually tried were the Ginger Orange Edamame ($2.99 large - steamed soybeans, orange peel, ginger, garlic, sea salt), Thai Chicken Lettuce Wraps ($6.99 - citrus soy sauce, red onions, red bell peppers, scallions, cilantro, mint, iceberg lettuce), Korean Steak Lettuce Wraps ($7.79 - Korean red chile sauce, carrots, bean sprouts, red onions, scallions, cucumbers, toasted sesame seeds, iceberg lettuce), and Hunan Vegetable Lettuce Wraps ($6.99 - Hunan sauce, tofu, shiitake mushrooms, Szechuan vegetables, zucchini, red bell peppers, red onions, scallions, peanuts, iceberg lettuce).

We all actually found the edamame too oily for our liking, and the warmth was a foreign concept as whole edamame have typically been served cold. It was given a quick pass as we moved into the lettuce wraps. The Thai Chicken were assuredly full of citrus notes and bright. The Korean steak seemed an attempt at bulgogi but came off a bit sweet. The julienned vegetables however added a good touch. My favorite of the three actually was the Hunan vegetable because of its tangy but spicy sauce and the perfect miniature cubes of vegetables; I wonder how long it took the prep chefs to dice them so finely. Overall, the wraps were quite messy to tackle because of how saucy they each were.

In terms of regular menus, my coworkers chose to order their favorites whenever they visit Pei Wei: Pad Thai ($8.49 large - Thai sweet and sour sauce, tofu, bean sprouts, scallions, egg, crushed peanuts, lime, cilantro, rice noodles) and Honey Seared Crispy Shrimp ($7.39 small - honey garlic sauce, chile oil, rice sticks, scallions, red bell peppers) with brown rice. The pad thai serving was quite generous, and I enjoyed the texture of the noodles. There was enough sauce to cover the ingredients but not douse the entire dish which was much appreciated. I liked finding the chunks of chicken to have with the ground peanuts as well albeit their being overcooked. As for the shrimp, they maintained just enough crispiness during our meal to be manageable; the accompanying crispies helped. The sauce melded well with the brown rice too. My thanks to them for the opportunity to try them out. If you are interested in checking out a Pei Wei near you for a fast casual Asian-American experience, their website is www.peiwei.com.

Photography by Minerva Thai.

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