Chinese Cuisine for Champions
By Suzy Buckley
As Miami works itself into a Super Bowl stupor, those rare hot spots with a bona fide football association are intercepting all the attention. Case in point: Philippe, the high-end Chinese restaurant known for its cult following of plates (creamy chicken satays, green prawns and roasted Peking duck, et al.) served against a rocking aural backdrop of Cat Stevens, the Beatles, Bob Marley and the Bee Gees. Chef/owner Philippe Chow—who also owns and operates Philippe outposts in Manhattan, Los Angeles, East Hampton and Mexico City— understands the value of boldfaced partnerships, and opened the Miami restaurant with investors Alonzo Mourning, Antonio McDyess, Chauncey Billups, Al Harrington, Stromile Swift, Tyronn Lue and a man synonymous with the Super Bowl, Jerome “The Bus” Bettis. “The music and sports businesses are probably our biggest client base,” explains Chow. “Agents approached us saying, ‘Hey, my guy loves your restaurant. If there are any future expansion plans, let us know, because we’d like to be involved.’”
Bettis, who is renowned for his role in winning Super Bowl XL (2006) for the Pittsburgh Steelers, became a diehard Philippe fan while dining in New York three years ago. “The food was just incredible, and the atmosphere was so charged,” says The Bus, who counts the chicken satays and pan-seared salmon as his favorite dishes, and believes Miami locals and visitors will place tons of orders for chicken satays, lettuce wraps, crispy beef and spare ribs for takeout, since it’s perfect Super Bowl-party finger food.
When he’s in Miami for this month’s Super Bowl XLIV, the former halfback will make Philippe his home base—that is, when he’s not at the game itself. But Bettis hasn’t attended as many Super Bowls as one might think: “Before I won a Super Bowl, my standard rule was that I wouldn’t go to a game unless I was in it. So all the years before I played, I never went. It was just one of those things: I didn’t want to see another player win the championship I so desired. You don’t want to see someone else get to the Promised Land: You want to get there for yourself. That was always my motivation—to really make sure I did everything I possibly could to put myself in that position.” Even without his interest in Philippe Miami, the 38-year-old Detroit native believes the Magic City is one of the best places for the NFL to host the game. “Here, the whole industry has an area where it can congregate in a small proximity,” he says. “Some Super Bowl cities are so spread out that you can’t do much, but in Miami and South Beach, you can get just about everywhere you need to be without a car.”
So what’s the secret behind an upscale Chinese eatery that attracts sports legends as investors, plus patrons who range from David and Victoria Beckham and Jay-Z and Beyoncé to George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and Hilary Swank? “There are very few places where you can find sophisticated, great food in a fun environment,” explains Chow, who opened his first Philippe on New York’s Upper East Side in 2005. “Usually, when you go to a fine restaurant, you hear elevator music. And when you go somewhere that’s maybe not so up-to-par culinary-wise, the food is secondary but the music and vibe are great. Here at Philippe, we tie together great food and music in a candlelight setting.” While there’s a nod to Chinese culture in each of the outposts, Chow stresses, “We don’t want people walking in and saying, ‘Oh, this place serves Chinese food.’ But each restaurant in every city features a big red wall that’s an ode to the Chinese culture in a very stealthy, nonintrusive way. Red has a good energy to it: When you walk in, it just lightens the room and makes it feel alive.”
PHOTOGRAPHS BY ELLIOT & ERICK JIMENEZ