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Chow Wars! Chowhound tries Chow - Philippe Chow L.A. [FIRST REVIEW, long]

J.L. Oct 26, 2009 01:50 AM

Not so long ago, in a neighborhood not so far away… Chow Wars!

The Melrose space formerly occupied by the late, lamentable restaurant Dolce has a new tenant: Philippe Chow. With branches in New York, Miami and D.F. (Mexico City), Philippe Chow looks to extend its high-concept operation in the L.A. area.

Serving upscale Chinese cuisine at extremely upscale prices, Philippe Chow L.A. is still in its infancy, having just opened earlier this month. Already, it has been served with a lawsuit by – you guessed it – Michael Chow (of Mr. Chow fame in Beverly Hills). This is reminiscent of the “Wolfgang Wars” not so long ago (also in Beverly Hills, interestingly), between Wolfgang Puck & Wolfgang Zweiner. As many may recall, Wolfgang Puck fired the opening salvo when he brought suit against Wolfgang Zweiner, essentially claiming that ‘This town ain’t big enough for the two of us.’ Since then, however, the two Wolfgangs have somehow coexisted.

How, then, will the Chow Wars turn out? Well, to partially help in answering this question, Mrs. J.L. & I made a reservation for 8:30PM this past evening at Philippe Chow L.A. to see if it’s worth all the hype.

Street parking was plentiful on Melrose on a Sunday night, though valet parking is available. Upon arriving (15 minutes early), we were cordially greeted by the hostess, who sat us at our table right away. An added nice touch was when she asked Mrs. J.L. if the room was too cold – she offered to talk to the manager if it was (it wasn’t). The dining room was about half full. Not bad, for a Sunday night when I half-expected that all the usual hipsters would be at the Rose Bowl, watching U2.

Décor: The bright red booths lining the walls accented the black walls of the bar, dark brown of the bamboo partitions, and white moldings. The lighting was dark, and the eclectic soundtrack was not overly loud. The bar area sports a small flat-screen TV, and appeared to be good for intimate conversation. There is a dark “private” banquet room, with a long-table, flanked by the wine cellar.

Menus were quickly distributed - Wine menu, Cocktail menu, and Dinner menu. Our server informed us to expect a 45-minute wait, if we decided to order their famous 7-lb. Peking duck. This was acceptable to Mrs. J.L. & I. Each course/plate arrived at a reasonable pace.

We’re used to having tea with our Chinese food - Well, Mrs. J.L.’s jasmine tea (served in a large tea bag in a small non-refillable porcelain cup, and not in a teapot) was certainly not complimentary. But it was served expeditiously.

Our aperatifs included two Bar Chef’s Specialties: First, a Mango Iced Tea (nothing special) and second, a “Philippetini” (lychee, triple sec, pineapple – Quite good). Service overall was quite cordial and unhurried. The manager made sure we were comfortable throughout our meal.

Now, on to the food (the menu for the New York location is accessible via their website, and L.A. prices were mostly identical). Portions were large enough to be shared for 2 or 3 people:
Corn and crab meat soup ($12): A large bowl. Light and tasty. No trace of MSG. Relatively generous with crab meat. A promising start.

Scallion pancakes (appetizer, $12): Four quarter slices of green onion pancakes, AKA tsung yeoh bing (蔥油餅). Meh. Nothing special, except the price. I could have much better for much less in the SGV.

Beef satay ($19): Why the heck am I ordering satay in a Chinese restaurant? Because it has Chef Chow’s “famous cream sauce”. (?!) Three skewers of tender beef with said cream sauce were plainly presented on a plate. While the beef was tasty, the sauce didn’t add or subtract from the taste - The ingredients in this simply didn’t “mesh”. Sticker shock is starting to set in…

“Mr.Cheng’s Noodles” ($16): Hand-pulled noodles in pork or veal sauce (we chose pork, cuz that’s old skool). This was essentially zha jiang mian (炸酱麵). It was presented with a side of fresh thin-sliced cucumber. The pork sauce was good, but the noodles were a tad too soft and lacked “bite” (i.e. no Chinese ‘al dente’). An acceptable dish, but again, at this price, it should have been better.

Next, the main courses were served:

“Green prawns” ($64, $32 for a half-order): Yes, $64 for a full order! Cashew nuts, water chestnuts, peppers, mushrooms - This was a visually interesting dish - The prawn has been colored green by a pesto-like sauce, but without any change in the shrimp taste. The result: A dish otherwise identical to the cashew prawn served in most other Chinese restaurants (but at a fraction of the cost here).

Drum roll please: Chef Chow’s award-winning famous Peking duck ($75) was served! Two chefs accompany the dish out from the kitchen. The duck is sliced tableside by the chef. It looks great. The slicing is quite good - Each slice has some skin, some lean meat, with no duck fat (for better or worse). The accompaniments include a bamboo steamer full of (refillable) piping hot thin flour tortilla wrappers (NOT the foldable steamed buns), Hoisin sauce, and thin-cut cucumbers and scallion shreds. The diner makes his/her own duck wrap.

The verdict on the Peking duck at Philippe Chow - Very good! It’s the least greasy Peking duck I’ve had in L.A., without compromising any of the gustatory joys of this classic dish. Yes, the skin is not as crispy. But in return, it retains more “duck flavor” than if the skin had been more cooked to a crisp. The hot tortillas are well-made in a bamboo steamer, and the diner can request free (!) refills on these. Yet, is this duck worth $75? Maybe… just for the novelty of trying it once.

There is a show, too! The music was temporarily hushed, and the lights turn up… The noodle chef emerged from the kitchen with a noodle board and noodle dough. He proceeded to demonstrate Chinese technique of hand-pulling noodles. The whole act took about 2-3 minutes, with the end-product (knife-cut, hand-pulled strands of noodles) being paraded about the dining room by a server, eliciting oohs & ahhs from various guests.

Desserts: 7 or 8 different desserts were presented by our server on a tiered stand. Mostly run-of-the-mill stuff, like apple crumble, chocolate layer cake, and a green tea crème brulee. We were too stuffed to remember all our selections at this point. Mrs. J.L. chose a red velvet cake and a cappuccino, while I had an apple crumble a la mode and a coffee. They were (again) not really anything special.

The cost? Our total bill (before tip) came out to $294.

Yes, $294 for a Chinese meal for two.

Service was excellent, so we left a generous tip. Philippe Chow L.A. can duke it out with Mr. Chow, for all we care. Watch your wallets here, my fellow ‘Hounds. Go and try the duck, but as for the rest, I’d suggest you head for the SGV.

  1. J.L. Oct 26, 2009 02:04 AM

    Oops forgot the 411:

    Philippe West Hollywood
    8284 Melrose Ave.
    Los Angeles, CA 90046
    323.951.1100
    www.philippechow.com

    2 Replies
    1. re: J.L.
      Servorg Oct 26, 2009 03:54 AM

      They had better hope that the old "There's a sucker born every minute" gets a substantial production increase to one per second or they are rapidly going to run out of sucker...err diners with room on their credit cards willing to subsidize this brand of LA lunacy.

      1. re: Servorg
        c
        carter Oct 26, 2009 09:03 AM

        In other words, an upscale PF Chang's, with food to match.

    2. e
      exilekiss Oct 26, 2009 09:15 AM

      Hi J.L.,

      Thanks for the thorough report and taking one for the team. I agree with you about the prices, they are ridiculous.

      $64 for essentially Cashew Shrimp as you say, and $16 for a Jajiang Mian, and $12 for Green Onion Pancakes (Tsong Yoh Bing)?! Yikes. That almost makes the $16 tiny bowl of Pho at Susan Feniger's STREET seem like a bargain.

      1 Reply
      1. re: exilekiss
        J.L. Oct 26, 2009 09:57 AM

        Hehehe EK - Funny you should mention...

        "Taking one for the team" was the original title of my review.

      2. Mr Taster Oct 26, 2009 02:44 PM

        J.L., do you ask about the method they use to roast their Peking Duck? It it a specially built open hearth oven with fruit wood, ala Quanjude, or some other approximation? Does the meat have a rich, dense smokiness to it? I don't want to pay $75 for Peking Duck, but if they do it right then they're really the only game in town. Pancakes instead of buns is already a step in the right direction.

        Mr Taster

        3 Replies
        1. re: Mr Taster
          J.L. Oct 26, 2009 05:06 PM

          More about the duck - The meat was indeed a tad smokier (a fact which I enjoyed also) and denser than the usual preparations I've had elsewhere. It was lean, but not lacking in flavor, nor was it too dry. Like I said - Very good.

          One other thing: After cutting the duck into the appropriate slices, the rest of the duck was not to be seen again. In other words, all you get from the $75 duck is a big plate of meat & skin slices - no drumstick, no wings. BUT, to their credit, I didn't ask for the rest of the duck to munch on (and there was already a lot of slices - we took a lot of it home in fact)...

          As to the method of preparation, I do not know. Maybe you can call them?

          1. re: J.L.
            o
            odub Oct 27, 2009 02:18 PM

            "After cutting the duck into the appropriate slices, the rest of the duck was not to be seen again"

            I'm taking a very very long pause here.

            1. re: odub
              J.L. Oct 27, 2009 05:53 PM

              Yeah I know.

              But again, I think that if I asked for the rest of the duck at that time, they would have given it to me (we were so darned full by that time that it didn't occur to me - rookie mistake)...

        2. d
          dtud Oct 26, 2009 03:16 PM

          thank you so much for this review. without people like you sharing experiences, i would have no idea this type of place even existed. it really is amazing to me and definitely made my day!

          1 Reply
          1. re: dtud
            J.L. Oct 26, 2009 05:07 PM

            Thanks for your kind words.

          2. SilverlakeGirl Oct 26, 2009 06:03 PM

            A tea bag? Kick them to the curb!

            1. a
              anamx Oct 27, 2009 06:41 PM

              Extensive review... seems like they are still investing large amounts of money in their franchise. Too bad they can't take care of all of them. I have not been to the one in LA and do not plan to. I live in Mexico City. I went a couple of weeks ago to Phillipe and I experienced rude service and bad quality of food. Other foodie friends have also been complaining lately. If I were Phillipe Chow I would be embarrassed to have my brand and name associated to this restaurant.

              1. a
                alfmetals Nov 21, 2009 09:32 PM

                We just ate there, and the food was middling to downright awful-at mindblowing prices. I didn't think someone could make a fried dumpling I didn't like. The inside was flavorless mush. I am still worried it was raw pork. I actually asked the waiter and he said I was safe because "they cook the pork before they make the dumplings". Hunh? I don't think that's how dumplings are made. Am I wrong? Either way, they were awful. The fried rice was oddly flavored, and the shrimp in it seemed unfresh. The beef with broccoli so slimy. Scallion pancakes bland. Flat noodles with chicken bland. Chicken lettuce wraps so-so at $16, but certainly no better than at a place like P.F. Changs. Unlike the duck eaten by the reviewer, ours was exceptionally fatty. The skin was crispy, and I was happy about the pancakes, though they were oddly tiny, not even big enough to wrap around their contents. I was super excited to try Philippe Chow-I'd be willing to pay exorbitant prices to have an option not including a drive to SGV for good Chinese food. This wasn't even decent, though. It was bad. Someday I hope my dream of good Chinese food in or around Hollywood will be realized! Not here, though.

                2 Replies
                1. re: alfmetals
                  J.L. Nov 21, 2009 11:10 PM

                  Funny... almost 1 month after my review of this place, I was just wondering if this restaurant has changed...

                  I guess it's going downhill. Fast.

                  Foodwise, the only redeeming factor of this place was the duck. Sad.

                  1. re: alfmetals
                    b
                    bsquared2 Nov 22, 2009 05:56 PM

                    Sounds like PF Chang's is better than Chow's. At least it isn't as expensive.

                    I don't understand both reviews. It was like people are expecting amazing Chinese food from a place that is probably more well known to the paparazzi. But, certainly ANY meal that costs almost $300 should be excellent.

                    This is where I defend PF Chang's: I drive to the SGV all the time. When I used to travel on business a lot, sometimes I would eat at PF Changs. I didn't go in expecting something close to SGV Chinese food, but it was fine. If you are eating Beef w/ Broccoli or Cashew Chicken, PFC's is probably OK. I read a great book called Chop Suey: A Cultural History of Chinese Food in America. If you like Chinese Food, it is required reading.

                    Sounds like this is the kind of place to have a drink and maybe see a couple of stars. I wouldn't go in expecting cutting edge Chinese food. If you go to the bar, you can avoid the 'sticker shock'.

                  2. m
                    M Blues Nov 22, 2009 10:43 AM

                    ,,,,,,,,uhhhhhhh,,,,,,,,,$294 for dinner for 2,,,,,,,,chinese food,,,,,,,
                    within three months, the store will be available for lease,
                    or there will be a serious change of menu/price/attitude.

                    And anyone who puts PF Chang's down, as if it's Panda Express, is really just being silly.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: M Blues
                      m
                      manku Nov 22, 2009 12:21 PM

                      Mr. Chow's has been a hit for decades with a similar menu/attitude...don't count him out yet!

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