Chophouse Gets Tender

had never heard of the Hotel Albany before I ran across a faded photograph of the 19th-century building that once stood at the corner of Ninth Street and Charlotte. The photograph, probably from 1900, revealed a gorgeous brick structure, designed by Louis Curtiss. From a balcony hung one modest sign with the words Chop Suey.

It just proves that some things don’t change. Kansas Citians still love Chinese food, and a good hotel always offers some kind of food, though probably not chop suey. The Fairmont Hotel’s Oak Room Restaurant (see review) sticks to the traditional continental fare that upscale hostelries have been serving for decades. Ditto for the Phillips Chophouse in the 72-year old Phillips Hotel (106 East 12th Street), which was dinner-only for months but recently revived its lunch trade in the lower-level dining room previously known as the Sir Loin Room and, later, the Walt Bodine Steakhouse.

It’s not a budget lunch by any stretch of the imagination. Just getting into the place costs money: five bucks if you have the valet park your jalopy; slightly less if you do it yourself in one of the nearby garages. And the downtown power brokers wonder why diners prefer not to eat north of 15th Street?

The Chophouse is an elegant dining room, attractively appointed with linen tablecloths and napkins. The service is extraordinarily attentive, complete with whole-grain rolls proffered by a busboy wielding silvery tongs. For a lunch meeting that demands some glam appeal, this is the right place. But all that elegance and sophistication comes at a cost. A turkey sandwich or a hamburger goes for $11, a bowl of soup for $7. (Lunch prices are distinctly cheaper one flight up, in the hotel’s tile-floored bar, 12 Baltimore.)

One day recently, I threw caution to the wind and blew fifty bucks — what was I thinking? — on lunch at the Phillips Chophouse with my vegan friend Kelly, who sipped from a bowl of roasted-tomato soup and then nibbled daintily on linguini tossed with squash, tomatoes and pine nuts. I finished a bowl of creamy chicken florentine soup, then greedily ordered a mini-version of the dinner menu’s veal Oscar, which turned out to be a $19 disappointment: The veal was chewy, and the hollandaise sauce was lukewarm. Even worse, I was still hungry when I left — and I barely had enough cash to pay the parking tab.

Bring back the chop suey!

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