Mr. Chow Tribeca
121 Hudson Street (at North Moore)
There’s no place like Tribeca for Mr. Chow, the culinary wizard who has managed to open gourmet doors around the world to Chinese food, once not even considered haute cuisine by the dining elite. Having always attracted a fabulous downtown artsy crowd to his 57th street flagship for nearly three decades (from Andy Warhol to Puff Daddy), it would have seemed like a no-brainer to set up shop in Tribeca ages ago. Finally, Michael Chow has purchased a second home, or should I say 12,000 square foot mansion, only footsteps away from his Japanese counterpart, Nobu.
In his usual uber-glamorous style, Mr. Chow (a restaurateur-cum-artist-cum-designer) sets the stage for the greatest food show on earth in this new lavish setting with a sleek black bar (by reservation only), a 130-seat modern white lacquer dining room with a sparkly floating-panel ceiling and a 40-seat outdoor terrace to boot. You’ll feel like you’re on a movie set as silver champagne & dessert trolleys roll seamlessly around the stylish main room while waiters perform larger-than-life tableside theatrics in the background. But the main event is stargazing with throngs of celebrities and sometimes even a guest appearance by the legendary host himself, Mr. Chow, in his signature black-rimmed glasses, Hermes suit & all. There’s no question that Mr. Chow will thrive in Tribeca admist a downtown crowd, hungry for high-end drama and pricey Asian cuisine. But the real question is whether he’s bringing anything new to the table other than a sexy and bustling change of scenery?
I guess the answer is to quote Mr. Chow himself: “For change, you have to have no change.” The classics remain on the Tribeca menu with 30 new Shanghai-inspired dishes, including a rather surprising venison appearance. However, Mr. Chow mostly rests on his laurels with satisfying but predictable dishes, like the chicken satay, a tangy chicken lathered in a creamy peanut sauce so addictive I considered pouring it into my purse. It’s these pricey guilty pleasures like the chicken satay, crispy beef with a sweet and spicy batter glaze, and a defiantly greaseless flash-fried gambei (think seaweed) salad with a gentle crunch that turn A-listers into regulars.
Sadly, not all of the classics felt as comfortable downtown as I did. I would’ve sent back a lifeless and rubber(ry)-skinned Beijing duck with stringy meat, but I didn’t want to make a scene in front of Jessica Simpson, who happened to be dining next to me with her entourage in tow. Likewise, a bland mound of diced squab with minced vegetables, shoveled into a quickly browning lettuce wrap, could only be salvaged by a thick plum sauce disguise.
For dessert, a refreshing and zesty melange of sorbets, some kitschily served in the shell, brought me to my happy place (my favorite was the lemon). I wonder: now that there’s a downtown Mr. Chow, will the young and hip ever travel beyond 25th Street again? It’s certainly food for thought…
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Until we eat again,