On a recent evening at Mr Chow, the venerable Chinese restaurant on East 57th Street that has catered to free-spending New Yorkers since 1978, a chef wheeled a metal trolley onto the balcony overlooking the dramatic sunken dining room. Taking a large ball of dough in both hands, he began to pull and massage it, thwacking the mass against the butcher’s block, then doubling it over, letting it twist, stretching, thwacking, twisting, doubling, while the room watched in silence.
This was the “noodle show,” a demonstration of starchy prowess that has occurred every night for 44 years.
The Observer was seated at a two-top, doing research (the best kind) on the federal lawsuit then being tried in Miami pitting Mr Chow against the upstart Philippe by Philippe Chow, a strikingly similar chain started in 2005 by a longtime member of Mr Chow’s New York kitchen staff.
There’s a noodle show at Philippe as well—performed by Mr Chow’s former noodle man, in fact—but that wasn’t what had the guests in tight minidresses pulling out their point-and-shoots when The Observer arrived a little later that same evening (stashing our Mr Chow doggie bag on the way in). Despite Michael Chow’s contention that Philippe had ripped off his concept wholesale, the difference in ambiance was striking.
Whereas Mr Chow was refined and understated, the vibe at Philippe could be described only as bumpin’. The bar was tightly packed. Servers wore red Chuck Taylors. Smashing Pumpkins was blaring on the PA. A woman in a tube top was sitting on a banquette in the entryway, eating out of a take-out container. Everyone was texting.
The excitement that evening turned out to be on behalf of the several New York Giants who were following up their Canyon of Heroes moment with a celebratory dinner in an upstairs dining room, while a photographer working for Cîroq vodka captured the scene.
We approached defensive end Osi Umenyiora to ask what the appeal was. “Great restaurant,” he said.
Maybe so, we thought, but whose?Read More