In Beverly Hills, the high-end Chinese restaurant Mr Chow is one of the preferred hangs for the rich, the famous and the TMZ photographers who stalk them. Caesars Palace now has a Mr Chow of its own, which has, since opening in late December, reportedly hosted private meals for Leo, Britney, Matt and J. Lo.
Las Vegas restaurants are no strangers to “flavor of the month” celebrities, but Mr Chow boasts a longevity unheard of in our little pocket of desert. The original location (there are now seven) opened in London on Valentine’s Day 1968. And the Beverly Hills locale has been demonstrating multigenerational VIP appeal since 1974. No trendy local spot has been in operation even half that long. Clearly, owner Michael Chow must be doing something completely mind-blowing, right?
The staff is quick to let you know they’re happy to make your decisions for you—as if selecting your own meal is a major chore.
That’s what I thought, until I experienced a dinner at the Beverly Hills location. What I found was a modest and a bit dated interior. And while the food was good, many dishes were little more than modified versions of now fairly common Chinese recipes.
The Caesars Palace incarnation blows away the West Coast spot in terms of décor. After entering through a reception area across from Payard Patisserie & Bistro, guests take an elevator up to the stark-white circular dining room. Carts of Champagne and dessert are rolled from table to table. A chef hand-pulls noodles in front of diners once nightly. And two patios overlook Caesars’ impressive Garden of the Gods pool complex and the resort’s quaint outdoor wedding chapel. I was unimpressed, however, by the segmented “Moon” sculpture on the ceiling, designed by Chow himself and constructed by Tait (the same company that designed Omnia’s kinetic chandelier), that lights up every 20 minutes and moves around. Yawn.
The food at the Caesars location (served family style) has had a few very nice surprises. But many of the dishes remained slightly elevated versions of things you can score at other Chinese restaurants, but with much larger price tags. Small, family-style first courses range from $14.50 to $23.50, with similarly diminutive entrées from $36.50 to $50, and sides at $7.50 per person. Two-course prix-fixe meals with sautéed rice and veggies go from $62-$72 per person, depending on your entrée choices, and the staff is quick to let you know they’re happy to make your decisions for you—as if selecting your own meal is a major chore.
The upgrades to traditional Chinese food are most pronounced in two appetizers: prawn toast (thick rectangular bites of shrimp sandwiched between layers of black and white sesame seeds), which comes with large sugarcoated walnuts and a flash-fried seasoned green vegetable dish called gambei; and scallion dumplings, featuring thick pancakes that are more like biscuits with a thick inner layer of scallion. I loved both, but at $17.50 and $14.50, respectively, I’d love them even more on someone else’s dime. The green water dumpling starter is also good, but not better than a typical gyoza. And steer clear of the owner’s namesake Mr Chow noodles, which are incredibly bland despite the accompanying pork and bean sauce and cucumber julienne.
Among the entrées, the best is the Drunken Fish: thin filets of Southeast Asian basa fish poached in a sweet white wine sauce, accompanied by trumpet mushrooms. Ma Mignon, on the menu since 1975, is a super-tender filet with a sprinkling of peppercorns that add a little kick. Gambler’s Duck is basically a smaller version of the traditional Beijing duck, served with steamed pancakes. And the green prawns (inspired by a Keith Haring portrait of Chow) are little more than a very good shrimp and cashew stir-fry, exceptional only for their color.
Among the sides, the lily bulb with yams is pretty interesting, since the bulbs aren’t terribly common on the Strip. The mixed vegetables are barely memorable other than for the brightly colored cauliflower. And the fried rice is bland.
While the food at Mr Chow is overpriced for its lack of originality, that’s not necessarily a deal breaker. It’s perfect for conventioneers with generous expense accounts entertaining clients with unadventurous palates who want to brag about eating at a famous restaurant and hope to see a superstar.
What can’t be forgiven by anyone, however, is the service I received on my first visit. It began as bad and progressed to laughably horrendous. Waiters repeatedly banged into my wife’s chair. We constantly felt rushed, to the point where a server basically took a nearly full plate of appetizers away from me the instant my fork left my mouth and touched down on the china. A cocktail order went unfilled until I asked it be taken off of my check upon my exit, at which point the drink suddenly appeared. While the service was vastly improved on my second visit, I still felt hurried. And the fast-talking attempts at upsells without explanations felt like a game of three-card monte.
Mr Chow clearly has a market, but it ain’t me. I’ll leave the Moon to the stargazers.
Al’s Menu Picks
- Prawn toast ($17.50)
- scallion pancakes ($14.50)
- Drunken Fish ($40) and Gambler’s Duck ($42)
Caesars Palace, 702-731-7888, MrChow.com. Open for dinner 5-10 p.m. Sun-Thu, 5-10:30 p.m. Fri-Sat.
Dinner for two, $150-$300.