Hot on the trail of the opening of Mr. Chow’s Tribeca outpost (I’m still mourning the loss of Danny Meyers and Abrams’ underrated sleeper of an offspring — Pace) comes Philippe, a Chow spinoff from the former executive chef of Mr. Chow, coincidentally also named Mr. Chow (Philippe is his first name). Just as Madonna, Beyonce and Cher once shed their last names in the wake of newfound fame, Philippe has outed himself as a celebrity chef and branded himself the king of Chinese haute cuisine, leaving his sur name behind. From the signage to the dishes, practically everything in this minimalist two-story House of Philippe proudly wears the name of its owner.
In the past year, droves of celebrity chefs have been getting bad raps for being pretentious, overly experimental, tantrum-throwing divas. This kind of bravado often comes with the territory of culinary greatness, that when executed well, can yield dishes that dreams are made of. In his former and more formal years, Mr. Chow, the chef (not owner) left his mark with squab lettuce wraps, satay chicken and filet mignon in garlic sauce. Unfortunately, Philippe seems to be resting on not only Mr. Chow’s laurels, but also his previous accomplishments while cooking at Mr. Chow, and in the process, hurting his chances of attaining true celebrity status amidst the Jean Georges’ and Thomas Keller’s of the world.
If only Philippe had dared to be different…if even from himself. Regretfully, he doesn’t seem to have changed a bit. At least, Nobu (Matsuhisa), also a one name show, added a few new dishes to his worthy repertoire when he spread his wings and landed midtown at Nobu 57. But Philippe’s menu is virtually identical to Mr. Chow on East 57th, Mr. Chow in Tribeca, London, Los Angeles, you get the picture.
Don’t get me wrong, I adore the tender chicken and beef satay in Chow’s “peanut-y” cream sauce. And of course, who could resist luscious crabmeat soup dumplings that explode with flavor, to mention shrimp dressed in a delicate green sauce? But dare he not test out but even one new creation in a dining room filled with loyal followers?
Sure, I had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of a satisfyingly crispy duck, but I’ve had equally as fine duck at Canton, Oriental Garden, Peking Duck House and Mr. Chow’s. I’ve also had it for a lot less than $65, even if it is meant “for two”. But unless you’ve never eaten Chinese, you’re well-accustomed to sharing heaping plates of sizzling beef in oyster sauce or kung pao chicken for a third of Phillipe’s price. If we’re going to pay top dollar to eat the same Chinese again, couldn’t he at least spice it up a little, think out of the been there, done that “pork box” we’ve become so familiar with at Mr. Chow’s original haunt.
Detailed in red, black and white with orchid accents scattered about for feng shui measure creates a serene, but chic eating experience for power lunchers and scenesters alike. But what appears to be a tranquil dimly lit space where orchids and willows grow free, can also be a perilous landmine. On my visit alone, two people slipped while heading up the stairs from the first floor dining room to the bathroom as well as four table vases accidentally fell to the floor, which leads me to believe he should do away with these weapons of imminent disaster and likely litigation.
If you can’t get a reservation, table or even a seat at the bar, don’t despair. Phillipe delivers pricey Chinese right to your door. So, if you’re the kind of diner who cares about the brand of your take-out, your menu will have Philippe written all over it — literally.
PHILIPPE 33 East 60th Street, btwn. Madison and Park Aves., (212)644-8885
Until we eat again…