Fine Dining in Manhattan isn’t always all about molecular gastronomy and tiny portions served on over-sized plates. While “Fine Dining Bargain” is not a phrase you are likely to hear at any time other than during restaurant week, there are upscale restaurants in town where you can get an exceptional value for your hard earned cash while also indulging your inner Foodie. One such destination is Philippe on East 60th Street, which has become a favorite of celebrity clientele from Lady Gaga to President Obama, and we think we know why: the location is discreet and food is off the hook.
Mango Ice Tea Cocktail: Potent & Refreshing (Photos By Anne Raso)
The creation of Chinese-born owner and executive chef Philippe Chow, Philippe takes traditional Chinese dishes that you might find on any storefront take out menu – from Shrimp Toast to Sweet & Sour Pork to Prawns in Black Bean Sauce – and elevates each to the realm of the gourmet. The dishes are uncomplicated; often featuring just few key ingredients, but prepared in a flavorful and creative manner that indicate you are in for some seriously exquisite food. Likewise, the tastefully minimalist interior decor allows diners to lend all of their sensory attention to the food. And while the prices may seem steep at first glance, be aware that all dishes are portioned for two, so you can easily compare an entree priced at $40 to two entrees at $20. Add a couple of appetizers and you will leave satisfied and smiling, without emptying your wallet.
Pork Dumplings: Super Yummy
Philippe’s menu is extensive and exciting. Perhaps being a bit overwhelmed with so many choices is what prompted us to just go with familiar favorites with our appetizer selection, with mixed results. The Wok Fried Pork Dumplings ($12) were delicious and put their take-out kin to shame, but the Scallion Pancake ($12) was a bit doughy/undercooked and lacking in distinct scallion flavor. Better options would have been to go with Philippe’s acclaimed appetizer selections, such as the Chicken Satay ($18) – whose reddish color hinted at it having been cooked in a Tandoori oven – or the Chicken Lettuce Wraps ($18) – a very popular choice, served in what looked like main dish-sized portion, which was enjoyed by diners at tables on either side of us. “Next Time,” as they say!
Chicken Lettuce Wraps: Recommended
For our entrees we were delighted with the tender Beijing Chicken with candied walnuts in a sweet brown sauce ($44/2), but we would recommend that meat lovers bypass the Crispy Beef ($56/2) which, though a house favorite, and admittedly lovely to look at, tasted predominately of its white flour coating and thus was very disappointing.
Crispy Beef: Looks Great, Yes. Tastes Great, Not So Much.
Instead, red meat fans should head directly for the melt-in-your mouth House Mignon ($75/2). Craving a green vegetable, we spotted this dish at a neighboring table and added a side order of Sauteed String Beans in a light Black Bean Sauce ($10), which were the best I’ve ever tasted.
String Beans: Delish
We were also distracted by an unidentified, deep fried prawn dish which the couple seated adjacent to us confessed is the pivotal reason they visit Philippe regularly. “We order it ever time we eat here, and we love it!” they exclaimed. (I just wish I could recall the name of the dish!). Another specialty of Philippe is the whole Peking Duck served table side (allow 45 minute for this dish) which has been rated “Best Peking Duck in the City” by The NY Observer, New York Magazine and several other notable food critics. Prices for this special, crispy-skinned treat range from $55 to $75 depending on the weight of the duck.
Service at Philippe is top notch. Our waiter was very friendly, super attentive and offered suggestions as well as happily answering any questions we had about the ingredients of specific dishes. The food also arrived at our table with remarkable swiftness, yet you could tell each dish was made fresh to order. Between each course we were presented with steaming hot, lemongrass-scented hand towels, which added a touch of pampered luxury to the dining experience. Philippe’s polished attentiveness with regard to every facet of customer care allows the staff to turn over tables multiple times during dinner service, though we never felt rushed.
Molten Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream. Moo.
After rounding out the meal with coffees and a couple of decadent dessert selections, we were beyond full but couldn’t stop babbling about all of the delicious dishes we wished we could have tasted. Philippe is definitely a place where stage whispers of “I want what they’re having” are overheard a lot. But one can only eat so much in one sitting, which is why repeat visits are in order.
Philippe By Philippe Chow is located at 33 East 60th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues in New York City. Phone 212-644-8885 for Reservations.