Of all the things that caught my eye at the new Mr. Chow Tribeca—the latest location of a celebrity-magnet franchise that began in London 38 years ago and expanded to Beverly Hills and midtown Manhattan—the one element that stood out was the clear Lucite chairs. As you stroll up to the sidewalk-café tables, you get a full view of pressed asses. One waiter confided to me that checking out the selection of derrieres was, in fact, a favorite pastime of the male staff. This does not surprise me: This upscale Chinese restaurant is all about routine intimidation and upselling. Basically, we’re all pieces of ass here.
The vibe inside is casually elegant but cramped. The big white-linen–covered tables have enough space, but the banquette seating—where most couples sit—is so crowded that servers must pull tables away whenever a diner takes a bathroom break. This setup makes removing dishes needlessly awkward; the back of your chair will be bumped.
More offensive, the waitstaff all but forces you to order the $54-per-person prix-fixe option; you have to beg to see a menu. If you’re lucky, they will explain that you can order à la carte, but they make it sound like you’d do better (i.e., get more food) if you let them custom-tailor the meal based on your preferences. I was floored by the stinginess no matter how I ordered. Four tiny sesame-sprinkled shrimp rolls, each roughly the size of a cigarette, run $12. The shrimp is fresh and has a nice snap when you bite it, but it’s no better than a $3 dim sum dish at any other Chinese joint.
The menu, prepared by chef David Hor (who used to work at the midtown Mr. Chow), is the same here as it is at every Mr. Chow—making it the McDonald’s of pricey Asian eateries. The offerings are almost all safe takes on Cantonese and Hunan standards—no spicy Szechuan. The starters tend to be light and elegant. The diced squab, bamboo shoots and mushrooms in a lettuce wrap tasted fresh and remarkably oil-free. Six little shrimp dumplings were hot and flavorful—though they came with no dipping sauce.
The entrées ranged from sweet to sweeter. I tried a Beijing chicken that was caked in a brown glaze with big caramelized walnuts. Buffalo filets were tender, but topped with a soy-garlic coating that tasted like duck sauce. A glazed pork entrée, slathered in another cloying sauce, amounted to two cubes of meat. I couldn’t decide if it was insulting or hilarious.
I would have complained to my waiter about the portion sizes, but he was nowhere to be found. Once our prix fixe had been sold, he moved on to the next suckers. Having succumbed to the overcharging and downsizing, I found myself experiencing the third and final theme: rushing. At one point, clearers were taking away our appetizer plates as we were eating from them. The meal ended with an allegedly shareable, yet pathetically small $10 fruit plate, a few slices of kiwi and pineapple, the kind of dessert sometimes proffered—for free, for one person—at the end of a meal on Singapore Airlines.
Oddly, the attitude doesn’t seem to repel people; Corvettes and Hummer limos now idle up and down Hudson Street. Ice-T sat at a table in front of me (his ass looked fine). The restaurant was even crowded on a balmy Sunday evening. Folks who come to Mr. Chow for a taste of glamour or celebrity-watching may not mind the audacity of the service, prices and portions. Those seeking a taste of almost anything else—hospitality, luxury or food, perhaps—will leave quite hungry.