If food and dining are among your interests, you’ve no doubt heard of Mr. Chow.
Michael Chow launched his eponymous restaurant in London in 1968, and it soon became known as much for its celebrity clientele as for its Beijing cuisine. Outlets in Beverly Hills, New York, Miami and Malibu followed, each becoming a celebrity hangout. And like any restaurant (or restaurants) with a big image, Mr. Chow quickly became a big target.
After the restaurant opened at Caesars Palace in December — after what Chow called a decades-long flirtation with Las Vegas — the familiar grumblings made their way around town:
It’s overpriced. The food is no better than your average neighborhood Chinese takeout. The wait staff is constantly upselling and trying to control what you order.
But on a recent visit, none of that was true.
The server offered ice water before bottled. The staff member with the Champagne cart came by and asked if we were celebrating anything or happened to be Champagne aficionados, and when we replied in the negative, he smiled and wheeled it away. And while our main server recommended the semi-prix-fixe, there was no pressure.
Yes, the prices are high, even for the Strip. Chalk it up to the polished, extremely adept service, the elegant atmosphere and, yes, a certain amount of Beverly Hills cachet.
As for the food: If anybody out there is getting this quality at their neighborhood Chinese joint, I want to know where it is. The scallion pancake ($14.50) is served just about everywhere, but this one was several levels above the rest, so flaky its texture was tantamount to puff pastry. It was served with a cruet of a nicely balanced sweet chili sauce, a deft accompaniment.
Our server said the Mr. Chow Noodles ($19.50) would remind us of a Bolognese, and indeed they did. That the sauce of ground pork was based on red beans instead of tomatoes added both interest and far more complex flavors, and the Chinese noodles it cloaked had a characteristically delicate nature.
Pork with sweet potato ($36) featured chunks of rich pork belly (with lots of fat, as expected) and tender, subtly seasoned tubers.
The green prawns, ($39) famously illustrated in a painting by Keith Haring, disappointed. Not the color — the chunks of prawn firm, mild and a bright emerald green — but sadly, the flavor was not as vibrant.
A side dish of vegetable fried rice ($7.50 and a steal, frankly) best highlighted the contrast between Mr. Chow and the local neighborhood joint. Instead of the usual soy-sauce drenching, this rice had a very light, almost buttery flavor, with gently sauteed scallions, onions, cabbage and baby edamame delicately sprinkled throughout.
The interior of the restaurant, on the second floor above the casino, is serene, with lots of white, including the walls, floors and crisp double linens. An especially elegant touch is the translucent panel in the center of each table, lit from below for a graceful glow. In the center of the dining room, a 26-foot fiberglass space-age-looking chandelier and kinetic sculpture descends periodically, slowly changing shape and color for an otherworldly effect.
Spotting celebrities is a big draw of most of the other Mr. Chow locations, but while a few are rumored to have been in, we wouldn’t count on seeing many here. There’s no doubt that eating here is a blow-the-rent occasion. But the deliciously prepared food, excellent service and impressive surroundings make it an experience you’ll value long after leaving.
Las Vegas Review-Journal restaurant reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Email Heidi Knapp Rinella at email@example.com. Find more of her stories at www.reviewjournal.com and follow @HKRinella on Twitter.
Mr. Chow, Caesars Palace, 3570 Las Vegas Blvd. South; 702-731-7778
The essence: Pricey, yes, but excellent on every level. Maybe surprisingly so.