The Westchester
125 Westchester Avenue
White Plains, NY 10601

I wasn't initially going to include any national chain restaurants in my blog. I saw them as too commercial. I pictured their chefs designing the menu in a lab somewhere far, far away and I saw that menu being subject to a bland, generic focus group to ensure maximum profitability. Finally, I figured that there are so many chain restaurants, and they all serve variations on the same food, that it seemed pointless to review them. If I've eaten at Chili's, then I've eaten at On The Border. If I've eaten at Outback, then I've eaten at Bugaboo Creek. And why worry about these behemoths when there are plenty of small little guys who probably serve way better stuff that no one hears about?

Then I started thinking. There are a handful of chain restaurants that don't feel like a chain (and when I say chain, I mean a place that has a whole bunch of locations numerous states). They don't have big glossy menus with exciting photos of the food you could be ordering. They don't put advertisements in their menu (I'm looking at you Cheesecake Factory... tsk, tsk, very low class). They don't line every part of usable space with banners from the local high school or college, giant fish nets, blinking stop lights, neon signs, traffic cones, giant singing moose heads... In short, they aren't Chotchkies. In the words of the indefatigable Moe:

"If you like good food, good fun, and a whole lot of crazy crap on the wall, then come on down to Uncle Moe's Family Feedbag. At Moe's, we serve good, old fashioned home-cooking, deep-fried to perfection. Now that's Moe like it! So bring the whole family. Mom, Dad, kids... no old people. They're not covered by our insurance."

So where to start with the non-crazy-crap-on-the-wall chain restaurants? Well, I happened to be at The Westchester in White Plains with Bro where there's a PF Chang's. How about there?

PF Chang's feels like a restaurant that should be far more expensive than it is, even though it's a casual place. It's extremely low lit. Actually, the lighting is so low that I'm glad every table had a candle, if just to read the menu. The bathroom's even darker. You sit down at dark wood tables or booths and eat with black chopsticks (or utensils if you suck). You're seated by a waiter or waitress wearing all black. You wipe your mouth with a cloth napkin which is also black. Are we seeing a theme?

From what little you can see, you'll notice that there's an Imperial Chinese concept vaguely tossed into the design. Above where we sat is a huge mural of faux-ancient design. Lining one wall are miniature warrior statues. But they don't go overboard. There's only just enough Chinese theme to give an Asian impression, which is, coincidentally, exactly like the food.

Here's the thing about the menu. It's Chinese, I suppose, but it's been watered down to such a degree that you can barely tell. It's like saying that eating a Dominos Brooklyn Style Pizza is like eating a pizza in Brooklyn.

Bro and I started off with the eternal favorite, Wonton Soup. In addition to the wontons, the soup had mushrooms, chicken, chard leaves and shrimp. The soup was pretty good, but too bland. The broth was just too thin. Additionally, Bro and I both thought that the shrimp didn't really work very well. That said, they give you a bucket of the soup. I'm not kidding. We got at least a liter and a half. Half of it's sitting in my fridge as I'm writing this and we had four bowls of it.

For an appetizer, I ordered the Peking Dumplings. I got four of them. You can choose boiled or fried, so I asked for two boiled and two fried. Again, while they were okay, they seemed somewhat more bland than what I'm used to. Bro ordered the Crab Wontons, which were deep-fried and served with a thick crab puree inside and a plum dipping sauce. I really did not like them, but Bro really did. This dish, I guess, is a toss up.

By this point, I was so full that I was on the verge of exploding at the table. Still, entrees were en route, so I had to suck up the pain and have a few bites before getting it boxed up. Bro, to my surprise, was not nearly as stuffed as me, despite being a smaller dude.

I ordered the Mongolian Beef, strips of beef in a sweet garlicky sauce, stir-fried with scallions. This was pretty good and I can honestly say I liked it. My only complaint was that the scallions weren't cooked enough. But other than that, I'm looking forward to the leftovers I have waiting next to the wonton soup. Bro ordered Tam's Noodles with Savory Beef and Shrimp. This was a spicy stir-fry of beef, shrimp, some vegetables and whatever Tam's noodles are supposed to be. They're very thick slices of doughy dough that the menu referred to as gnocchi-like. Either way, Bro wiped his plate clean... with the exception of the noodles, which I think he had two of before pushing them to the side. So was it good? Well, maybe you can exercise your right to a food based line-item-veto. Good dish; veto the noodles.

We did not get dessert, even though there were a few that looked pretty good. So what was the damage? Three appetizers, two entrees, and two bottomless sodas, plus tax and tip, burned us out of $62.86. Not bad.

So that was the first chain restaurant review. But for some reason, it was more fun than I thought it'd be, and I don't feel like a sellout at all. Ahhh... breath that non-sellout air. Crisp. So where next? Who knows. Smith and Wollensky? Legal Sea Food? We'll see.

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