It may seem strange that at a time when Asian cuisine in New York has come to be defined by colorful figures like pork-belly provocateur David Chang and Eddie Huang, the bad-boy of bao—chefs who serve up artery-clogging delicacies with a touch of aggression—such a hard-fought battle has been waged over a style of cuisine that foodies dismiss as old-hat and critics routinely savage as greasy and bland.
“Not to say they’re not good restaurants,” hedged Danielle Chang, creator of the Asian food festival Luckyrice, who has eaten at Mr Chow and Philippe. “It’s a different brand of Asian food, dressed up for American palettes. I don’t mean to be derogatory, there’s nothing wrong with it.”
“The vibe and the menu seem very old-school and outdated now,” said Jennifer 8. Lee, author of The Fortune Cookie Chronicles, who admitted she has never been to either restaurant. Ms. Lee attributed the success of Chinese food in America to precisely the sort of borrowing at the heart of the case. “Chinese food has always been iterative,” she said. “That’s how General Tso’s Chicken and fortune cookies got spread. It’s like open-source innovation. In that sense, this situation is part of a long tradition, though it is a little more sketchy.”
Mr Chow has had a truly spectacular run. The Beatles and the Stones became regulars after the first restaurant opened in London in 1968 (John Lennon’s last supper was eaten at Mr Chow on 57th Street). The Beverly Hills location, which launched in 1973, became a favorite power spot (it is still a regular location for those TMZ paparazzi videos). The New York restaurant was a favorite of the Warhol crew and later became a draw for hip-hop artists—all with a menu that has little changed in more than four decades.
That said, celebrity patrons are not known for adventurous culinary taste (e.g., Elaine’s, Michael’s).
If the outcome of Chow v. Chau does anything, it will be to help Mr. Chow preserve this astonishing legacy—one that was bound to spread, legally or otherwise. In an email, Mr. Chow told us, “With my restaurant, I bridged the palates of the East and the West and have made this my life’s work. I felt I had to stand up for myself and my life’s work when I was wronged, and I have done that. A Miami jury awarded me over a million dollars in damages, and I feel vindicated. I now want to move on and continue to focus on my business.”
For his part, Mr. Morfogen vows to appeal the verdict, insisting that the jurors misunderstood how Google advertising works. Meanwhile, with locations in Miami, Manhattan, Long Island, Mexico City, West Hollywood and Boca Raton, he is again looking to expand, eyeing Las Vegas, as well as Fort Lauderdale, Dallas and Dubai.
With the jury’s sanction, all of them will serve Green Prawns, Chicken Satay and House Me Mignon.