Philippe, no not Mr. Chow but Philippe, is one of the more chic and trendy Chinese restaurants in the Upper East Side (Tao and Mr. Chow being other ones). Prices are high but the elegant setting and generous portions slightly make up for it. The crowd ranges from uber-chic inhabiting the bar area to hip-hop wannabes feasting on the high priced fare on plush couches. Philippe also boasts one of the best value pre-fixe menus in the city (an appetizer, entree and dessert for $20.09). I couldn’t pass that menu up and got the vegetable dumplings, velvet chicken and coconut ice cream (the dessert options on the menu aren’t exactly eye opening). With a reputation like Philippe Chow’s I had expected really good Chinese food, perhaps a bit better than Buddakan’s, but once I took a bite I had come to a conclusion that it tasted no different than the take out place down the block from my house. Is that a bad thing necessarily, no, but when you’re paying $44 for chicken and broccoli one does set expectations a bit higher than take out. In Philippe’s defense most of the items on the menu are made for two or three people which kind of justifies the price but never the less Philippe needs more sophisticated and creative dishes but then again, he’s been doing just fine for all these years. It’s safe to say the people who go to Philippe don’t exactly go for the food but instead for the ambiance. The food is sub-par and is no better than your local take out restaurant but the decor and vibe of the restaurant is what makes it the trendy dinner spot that Philippe is known for.
UPDATE (12/13/09): I visited Philippe for lunch on Friday (Dec. 11 2009) and found it better than my first visit. The vibe was more of a “power lunch” rather than a “casual” lunch. This time I had Mr. Cheng’s Noodles (created by Mr. Chow’s own Wai Ming Cheng) and the Chicken & Broccoli. The noodles were typical Asian noodles with a “Chinese Bolognese” (your choice or pork or veal and bean) sauce. The chicken & broccoli was essentially the same as your local take out place but with white sauce instead of brown sauce. The food was a bit better than the first time (now meriting the equivalence of a good take-out place as opposed to a normal take-out place) but it was the service that made Philippe worthy of a review update. Philippe is very sensitive and attentive to food allergies. Normally people, such as myself, with peanut and legume allergies have to avoid Chinese restaurants at all costs due to the fact that most waiters tend to not speak English very well which often leads to the kitchen not finding out about your food allergy. But at Philippe the waiters take good care of its patrons and make sure that no items served at your table contain the allergen. As a person with a severe allergy to nuts and peanuts I would over look average Chinese food if I feel the servers are taking my allergy seriously and will ensure that I won’t have an allergic reaction at their restaurant.
UPDATE (12/27/09): I made my third visit to Philippe yesterday for lunch (once again). This time I had the Wok Fried Pork Dumplings and the Beef with Oyster Sauce. As always Philippe isn’t crowded, but has enough diners to create a good atmosphere in the restaurant. The service was spectacular on this visit as well. The waiters always take food allergies seriously and are always courteous. Also I find that with every visit, the food gets better and better. The dumplings were very tasty and light (not drenched in oil like other Chinese restaurants). While it wasn’t what I was expecting, the Beef with Oyster Sauce was a good option as the dish put a westernized twist on the traditional Beef with Broccoli. Instead of broccoli, the dish was served with pea shoots and the sauce wasn’t greasy or oily like other Chinese restaurants normally prepare it. I find that my visits to Philippe are always getting better and I’ll be sure to go back again…perhaps for dinner next time!
UPDATE (1/23/10): Yesterday I visited Philippe for lunch and decided to try out their $20.09 pre-fixe lunch menu. I learned that Philippe actually closes for lunch at 4 PM (with their last seating at 3:30 PM) as opposed to 3 PM (which is what Opentable has posted on their website). I also learned that Chef Cheng’s noodle show begins at 9:30 PM for dinner service. For lunch I ordered the Chicken Lettuce Wraps and the Velvet Chicken. I have fallen in love with the Chicken Lettuce Wraps served at Philippe. The chicken is chopped up and served with diced cucumbers in a hoisin sauce. They also give you slices of fresh lettuce and plum sauce on the side. I must say that I was thoroughly impressed with the dish. The plum sauce was very flavorful and added to the chicken/cucumber mix and the lettuce gave it that extra kick to tie it all together. The velvet chicken on the other hand, while good, I’m not a big fan of. I’d be more than happy to order it on the pre-fixe lunch menu but on the regular menu there’s better options (the beef with oyster sauce is one of them). But never the less, the dish tasted like a spicy version of Philippe’s Chicken with Broccoli, which is a good thing. But what continues to impress me time after time is the service at Philippe. I can’t stress enough how much Philippe cares about food allergies. Besides them taking care of my nut/peanut allergy the waiter also, very diligently, took care of the patron’s allergy on the able next to mine which was of wheat and dairy. They really do try their best to accommodate all their guests no matter what the circumstances. Philippe has become one of my regular lunch spots and I do plan to return again soon!
UPDATE (2/04/10): After my 5th visit to Philippe I’ve officially been recognized as a “regular”. The waiter knew me before I even sat down and more importantly knew of my peanut allergy instantly. I ordered the $20.10 lunch special (a true bargain in my book) and got the Chicken Lettuce Wraps, Crispy Beef and Green Grape Sorbet. The Chicken Lettuce Wraps are fantastic and one of my favorite dished served at Philippe. Until today I have never disliked a dish at Philippe, but unfortunately the Crispy Beef happened to be that dish that I wasn’t too fond of. The dish was way too sweet, it actually tasted like candied beef, to eat all at once forcing me to take half my entree home with me. At first it tastes great, but the shear amount of sugar and corn starch used was enough to make my face flush and my head spin temporarily. I’m willing to forgive Philippe for one bad dish as every restaurant just so happens to have one menu option that isn’t that good nor up to par with the rest of the dishes. The sorbet also was more of a palate cleanser and was a refreshing way to end my meal. Though I disliked the Crispy Beef, that won’t stop me from returning to Philippe in the future as the rest of the dishes are far superior than other Chinese restaurants and the service is one of the best in Manhattan!