I missed the Mr. Chow moment. That was almost 30 years ago, when Michael Chow opened Mr. Chow in East Midtown, building on successes in London and Beverley Hills. It was supposed to be haute Chinese reinterpreted for a modern audience, but it was always more about people-watching. Mimi Sheraton was unimpressed when she awarded one star in the Times. When Mr. Chow opened a fourth branch last year in TriBeCa, Frank Bruni turned in a devastating zero-star review. Not that it mattered. Mr. Chow is still there.
For 26 years, Philippe Chow (no relation) was the executive chef at Mr. Chow in midtown. Last year, he opened his own place just a few blocks away, and christened it Philippe. He hasn’t waited long to expand, with an outpost in Mexico City, and branches in Miami and Las Vegas to come.
Philippe was basically ignored by most of the critics in town. I believe Adam Platt was the only one who bothered, awarding zero stars. The menu is basically a clone of Mr. Chow. Philippe Chow’s aim in life is not to challenge us with anything new, but simply to get a piece of the gravy train that the other Chow has been feeding on for so long. Nevertheless, Philippe does have some advantages: It is not as hideously over-priced as Mr. Chow.
Chicken Lettuce Wrap (left); Whole Crispy Duck (right)
To start, we had the Chicken Lettuce Wrap ($15), which my friend Kelly remembered fondly from Mr. Chow. I assume the mystery meat we were served was indeed chicken, but it had that bland generic taste of the take-out place down the street. Kelly said that it was nowhere as good as the wraps at Mr. Chow.
Nearly all of the entrées are priced for two persons. We ordered the Crispy Duck ($54), served with the traditional pancakes, duck sauce, lettuce and scallions. Unlike the traditional Peking Duck (which Philippe also offers, at $65), this duck is deep-fried. It was presented whole, then dissected table-side. We were mightily impressed with the textural contrast between the crisp skin and the succulent, fatty duck meat. It was so tender that the server only needed two spoons to pull it off the bone.
We also had an order of pork fried rice ($8) to share. It was gorgeously presented in a gleaming silver crockpot, but it wasn’t warm enough, and it tasted like it had come out of the microwave.
There is a tendency to upsell. We didn’t finish anything we ordered—and, in the case of the duck, I was sorry to leave any of it behind. Nevertheless, our server tried his best to persuade us to order a second appetizer, which would have been truly a waste. After the duck was cleared, he brought a tray of dessert samples to our table, a practice normally encountered only at low-class restaurants.
Nevertheless, we did take the plunge on dessert, and I wasn’t sorry we did. Kelly was happy with a chocolate éclair (right), and I enjoyed an orange–carrot tart (left), both beautifully plated.
It’s hard to rate Philippe, because the duck was first-class and the desserts were very good, but our appetizer and fried rice were no better than mediocre take-out. But plenty of places in town are less expensive and more consistent.
Philippe (30 E. 60th Street between Park & Madison Avenues, East Midtown)