What's In a Name? Plenty, Just Ask Wolfgang Puck and Michael Chow!

04/03/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

People keep asking me when am I going to review the Wolfgang Steak House in Beverly Hills, and I always shrug and reply, 'Never.' If I did, my review would consist of two words: Puck 'Em! Despite all their protestations that the owner's real name is also Wolfgang and that he already has a place by that name in New York, I continue to resent their opening a restaurant a few hundred feet up the street from Wolfgang Puck's Spago. The newer place could be confused with that of the original Wolfgang.

I understand that the other Wolfgang Zweiner worked for years as a manager at the Brooklyn steakhouse, Peter Luger, but I think the confusion is there, and thus I don't have to endorse it. Despite the fact that Wolfgang Puck lost a lawsuit regarding this naming situation, they appear to be managing in some sort of co-existence.

So I am particularly sensitive to the complaint which Michael Chow, Mr. Chow of international fame, has with the recent opening in West Hollywood of a restaurant by a man who had adopted a similar name, Philippe Chow. I went to the trouble of reading a legal brief which Michael Chow recently filed in Florida against that man and his associate, a wealthy businessman named Stratis Morfogen, claiming that they exercised unfair and deceptive trade practices, misappropriated his trade secrets, engaged in unfair competition and false advertising. It says that a man named Chak Yam Chau had worked for some 25 years as an 'expeditor' in Mr. Chow's kitchen (never as executive chef, as has been claimed), leaving in 2005 and joining forces with his wealthy backer to open Chinese restaurants.

Changing his name to Philippe Chow, they opened restaurants in New York, Mexico City, Miami, East Hampton and now Los Angeles under the name Philippe by Philippe Chow. The legal complaint alleged that they are unlawfully misleading, confusing and deceiving the public and clients of the real Mr. Chow. Wow!

Further, from what I understood and later confirmed, they are offering dishes similar to those of the original Mr. Chow, including his signature hand-pulled noodles made from a mound of dough into hundreds of noodle strands right in the dining room. The legal complaint makes reference to a dozen signature dishes, including Ma Mignon, Chicken Joanna, Mr. Chow Noodles and Chicken Satay with secret sauce. Having eaten in the Beverly Hills' Mr. Chow since its opening in 1974, I am intimately familiar with his menu... many were the nights that I joined Billy Wilder for their Beijing Duck and the Green Prawns. (A point of personal privilege: I am a casual friend of Michael and Eva Chow, and have enjoyed this relationship for many years, but only once in 35 years have they ever bought me a dinner). Eva Chow told me that they have recently opened their fifth outpost in Miami's South Beach and a Las Vegas outpost is also in the works. If you want a taste of the real thing, go to Mr. Chow at 344 N. Camden, Beverly Hills (310) 278-9911, and enjoy your meal amidst its celebrated clientele. (Is that Madonna and Leonardo DiCaprio at the corner table?)

One of my long-time subscribers is the famed attorney Bert Fields, and every partner in his law firm receives Jay Weston's Restaurant Newsletter. So I was intrigued to read in the LA Times his comment on his client's situation: "My friends and I have enjoyed dining at Mr. Chow's for many years. Many of us entertain I am personally affronted when this former food chopper and his cynical backers try to make money by imitating everything Mr. Chow does."

In the spirit of journalistic transparency, (and an overwhelming love for Chinese food), I recently did do one anonymous dinner with a date at Philippe Mr. Chow (8284 Melrose Avenue, West Hollywood (323) 951-1100), where Dolce used to be.) The room is dark and attractive in a garish, old-fashioned Chinese style. I started by drinking a philipptini, lychee, pineapple juice, vodka, triple sec, and a splash of Chambord. Apart from the duck, it may have been the high point of the meal.

The food was pedestrian, extremely expensive, and a pale carbon copy of the dishes at the other Mr. Chow. But then there is that Peking Duck, which we were told would take 45 minutes and cost $75 for the seven pound fowl ($55 for four pounds, but we went for broke.) It was superb, a beautifully lacquered bird with a crispy golden skin. The chef deftly carved it at the table and served a bit of meat and skin in piping hot tiny thin flour tortilla-like pancake wrappers from the bamboo steamer, rather than the usual dense buns. I must note that as they prepared to take the rest of the meaty carcass away, I unabashedly asked to take it home... and they amusedly complied. My cat, Pyewacket, was a happy camper later. (Note: at the original Mr. Chow, the Beijing Duck is only served for three or more people... at $62 per person, but it a three-course dinner.) I had ordered several of the same dishes which I grew up with at Michael's place... Green Prawns, here $64 for an order for two! They follow the same recipe: green pesto-sauce coloring, cashew nuts, water chestnuts, peppers and mushrooms. Not much difference. Crispy seaweed-gambei ($15) which is actually fried greens, if you must know. Compared their Chicken Satay (3 skewers for $18) and found it sadly lacking, too brightly orange-colored with a vapid peanut cream sauce. Surf & Turf ($135 for two), house steak slices and a small South African lobster tail. Outrageously expensive.

Conclusion: Michael Chow has been successful since 1968, and he will continue to conquer. But there may be room for this outrageous namesake-interloper in a shallow world of flash and glitter. My recommendation to all Westside Chinese food-lovers: celebrate The Year of the Tiger by heading on down to the southwest corner of Sepulveda and Olympic Blvd, where in the far end of that little shopping mall past the hanging ducks is Hop Woo (11110 W. Olympic, LA 90064, (310) 575-3668; Peter will take care of you with the most outrageously authentic and delicious Chinese dishes outside of the deep San Gabriel Valley. Gung hai fat choi.

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