33 E 60th St between Madison and Park Aves (212-644-8885). Subway: N, R, W to Lexington Ave--59th St; 4, 5, 6 to 59th St. Noon--midnight. Average main course (serves two): $40.
Anyone familiar with Mr. Chow—the trend-setting original in Beverly Hills, the 57th Street branch or any of the half-dozen versions that have popped up globally—will be confused by this new haute Chinese restaurant. The name Philippe refers to Philippe Chow, who worked as executive chef at Mr. Chow for 26 years but bears no relation to that establishment’s owner and namesake, Michael Chow. The new Mr. Chow adapted his playbook from the myriad Peter Luger defectors who, rather than watch their employers mint money, cloned the formula.
At Philippe, the focus is clearly on the scene above all else: The gorgeous environment is chock-full of beautiful people who come to dine on exorbitantly priced Chinese classics. The former RM duplex (Rick Moonen’s old place) has been bathed in white paint with splashes of black and red. It is often crowded and you may have to wait for a table even if you have reservations.
Chow has brought with him more than two dozen recipes he honed over a quarter century at Mr. Chow, and he convinced his noodle chef, Wai Ming Cheng, to come aboard too. The resulting menu is very straightforward: “Velvet chicken” comes with chopped vegetables and spicy sauce. “XO beef” comes with chopped vegetables and XO sauce (made of dried seafood, chilies, onion, garlic and oil). You get the idea. All of the dishes I tasted ranged from pretty good to oddly goopy. The chicken satay, for example, contains three skewers of day-glo orange meat covered in Philippe’s cream dipping-sauce, which tastes like some kind of unfortunate pairing of hollandaise and Cheez Whiz. The “drunken sea bass” was a mass of spongy fish slathered in what was billed as white wine sauce—but I detected no wine, just cloying sweetness. I found some mushrooms hiding under the fish too, an afterthought that did not help matters.
Some dishes worked just fine: the salt-and-pepper prawns, the minced squab and vegetables wrapped in iceberg lettuce, and Mr. Cheng’s pillowy noodles slathered with a sugary pork-and-bean rag.
Pricing is another stomachache: All entres are prepared for two or three people, amounting to between $28 and $65 (half portions are available). A few high-end ingredients justify some of the cost. The regal house mignon is served like chateaubriand; akin to barbecue, the pieces with a burned, peppery exterior rise above the relatively bland unadorned ones.
But thrifty types are punished: Rather than order a proper $65 Peking duck, on one visit, I opted for the poor man’s $48 “crispy duck,” which had been singed into oblivion. The meat tasted as much like pork cracklings as fine fowl, though the homemade crpelike pancakes were OK; plum sauce and scallion helped.
Sadly, there’s virtually nothing exciting or original on the menu. Desserts lean on familiar French offerings like chocolate mousse cake and tarte Tatin—though one night my server couldn’t identify half of them. Frankly, there’s very little reason to drop a few hundred bucks on a meal here unless you have a particular fondness for the Lizzie Grubman crowd.