When it comes to eating at restaurants for me it’s all about the food and never about the decor. Until now. But it’s not a case of finally appreciating an exquisite decor, but rather being annoyed by an incredibly unbelievable dining setting..
Philippe Chow has to have the most weird and bizarre layout of any restaurant I’ve been to, so much that it detracts from any dining experience there may be (and which itself is very limited). When you step through the doors you are confronted by an interior alley (actually more like a back alley) without a rooftop, with the podium on the left, the bar and small dining area on the right. Continuing down the alley there is a mess hall like dining room painted in black and white on the left, and the kitchen door on the right, so as you sit at your table you get a great view of the wait staff coming in and out of the kitchen, and if you go to or leave your table, you have a great chance of bumping into a server. There appears to be a private dining area at the end of the hall.
Instead of paying more attention to the meal, I was sitting there wondering what they were thinking when they designed the place. Maybe they thought painting everything black would hide flaws, but that's not the way it works. If they were trying to be Beverly Hills hip they completely missed the mark. Maybe would have been hip back in the 70's but I can't get away from the tackiness and sloppiness of it. All this might be unforgivable if we were talking about a hole in the wall dive that serves fantastic food. But this is Philippe Chow in Beverly Hills, where the menu items run three times the price of what you would pay for Chinese food in the San Gabriel Valley that is three times better.
Of course I’d rather not dwell on the negative so I would like to say some positive things about Philippe Chow. The food wasn’t nearly as bad as I had expected and the $20 lunch special was reasonably priced for Beverly Hills, if they hadn’t run out of dessert and for which they gave us a raincheck, as if we’ll ever go back to this house of horrors. Indeed the entrees, breaded fried salmon and velvet chicken, were quite interesting even if the dishes themselves missed the mark. And the satay chicken was actually pretty good, though the deep red batter was a little disconcerting.
Also, I was happy to get the chance to eat here because when we arrived for our 11:45am reservation the restaurant was locked tight, which led me to assume they were out of business. Fortunately we saw a construction worker inside and when we waved at him, he came to tell us that they didn’t open until noontime, which makes you wonder why they accept 11:30 and 11:45 am reservations. And since the wait staff didn’t arrive until the noontime opening, he let us in, brought us menus and solicited our orders. (It turns out he was part of the dinner crew and was daylighting as a handyman. Nonetheless I had never been served at a restaurant by somebody dressed like one of the Village People.)
Perhaps our thoughts about the decor were overly influenced by the fact that we were there in the daylight, where based on the fact that there were no other lunchtime diners the entire time this may well be a dinner restaurant, and at night the cheap and sloppy look of the premises is obscured by darkness. But then I read that at night the interior is lit up in red lights, so it's probably even sleazier.
Finally I want to reiterate how happy I was to finally eat here, since a previous attempt to dine at Philippe Chow two months previously was postponed by rain--literally since we arrived to a flooded restaurant after a brief late winter rainstorm, without being timely notified that our reservation was cancelled. (Whoever designed this restaurant without completely enclosing it must have listened to "It Never Rains In Southern California" one too many time.) That's why my heart sank when the restaurant appeared to be locked up when we arrived for our reservation. After all, based on these comments, this place could easily go out of business at any time.
[Thanks to Judy Isozaki who was equally taken aback by the premises and co-authored portions of this piece.]