For a while, Philippe Chin moved away. Not from the kitchen, which is his life's work, but from the Philadelphia area he had come to call home after owning several restaurants there for more than 15 years.
Chin traveled south to Augusta, Ga., where he worked at several places. He tried Washington, D.C., for a while, then Saratoga Springs in New York, before making the decision to return to the area that had become his second home.
The dining public can forgive him for his brief dalliance with a few other states in the union. After all, Chin is your quintessential Frenchman with a pinch of Asian spice added for good measure.
The two things he really wanted were to return to the Philadelphia area and to be somewhere near the water.
"Now, I am an hour from Philadelphia, and I am right on the bay," Chin says.
His latest restaurant, Philippe Chin -French-Asian Bistro and Deck Bar in Somers Point, is the best of both worlds for the world-famous chef.
The beauty and potential of the Victorian mansion located at 800 Bay Avenue did not elude Chin, either. After a few weeks of negotiations with the owner, Philippe Chin - French-Asian Bistro was launched on Memorial Day Weekend 2012.
Basically a "turn-key" operation, Chin had to do little more than change the color of the walls to suit his taste.
"The biggest change was to open the front wall, so instead of a fireplace, when you first come in you can see the bay," Chin says.
As if the view and the surroundings were not enough, Chin's comfortable menu also will catch the customer's eye. Building on the latest trend called "bistronomy," Chin, like his Parisian chef counterparts, is moving away from the fancier French classics in order to offer his guests simple and well-prepared food typically found at neighborhood restaurants in France. His daily plats du jour is a perfect example of the new cooking, based on traditional fare and affordable prices.
Every Monday, coq au vin; Tuesday, sauteed skate wings; Wednesday, duck confit; Thursday, coquille St. Jacques; Friday, salade Nicoise; Saturday, boeuf au poivre; and on Sunday, navarin d'agneau aux petits legumes is on the menu. All the dishes are priced at $22 and will change seasonally.
The main menu includes plenty of seafood and shellfish selections, perfect for a restaurant near the sea, served over ice to cool the summer palate.
Small plates include classic bistro dishes such as moules frites ($16), local seafood favorites including Maryland crab cakes ($16/$30) and Chin's fusion creations such as tuna sashimi brulee ($14, and Asian tuna nachos ($11/$18).
Entrees include a classic French steak frites ($26) cooked to order, or the American standard raised to a new level, a certified Angus beef hamburger ($12).
"I do try to do the right thing by using local ingredients like scallops from Barnegat Light," says Chin, who also prefers to serve cold water oysters, saying it is all a matter of taste for him.
"I know a local guy who has four or five small boats. One day he might have flounder, one day he might have fluke, the day after he might only have black bass," Chin says.
Those items that come in as fresh as possible, but in small amounts, become a daily special on his menu.
"When we run out, we run out," Chin says.
Chin, who used to have a house on Long Beach Island, is familiar with the seasonality of the Jersey Shore, both ingredients and crowds.
"In the winter, we will do a jazz brunch and guest chef dinners, all kinds of special events," Chin says.
For the winter, Chin envisions a shorter menu with heartier dishes such as boeuf Bourguignon, choucroute garni, and cassoulet.
"I believe in seasons and freshness of ingredients," Chin says. "The fall menu will have more game and mushrooms and whatever is available."
Chin is happy that so many locals are already supporting his restaurant.
"Capture the locals and make them happy and do a good job. At the end of the day in the restaurant business if you give good service and good food, usually it's a home run," Chin says.
Many former patrons from Philadelphia have stopped by to check out Chin's latest endeavor.
The wine list features pricing that is fair, with good quality wines, although some are obscure, not the typical cookie-cutter wines that you will find on many wine lists.
"It is not a huge wine list, but there is something for everybody," Chin says.
"My sommelier is a cook by trade, so he can come in the kitchen and expedite if need be.".
Chin uses the same menu for the entire restaurant.
"I want people to come here and have a good time," Chin says. "If they want to sit on the deck with a $200 bottle of wine and a rack of lamb, they are welcome to do so."
When two customers sit at the same table, one can have a hamburger and one can have a filet mignon.
"Yesterday there were three people who came in for dinner. One ordered a beet and arugula salad with goat cheese, one ordered moules frites and one ordered a creme brulee. The lady who ordered the creme brulee decided on an apple tarte for her second course," Chin says.
"I really want a place where everyone can feel comfortable."
Philippe Chin French-Asian Bistro is already becoming the neighborhood place Chin dreamed it could be.
On a mission
Not many restaurants print their mission statement right on the menu. Philippe Chin French-Asian Bistro does. "Welcome. Our mission is to provide you with a unique dining experience on the bay in a comfortable neighborhood bistro setting. Enjoy innovative dishes prepared with the freshest ingredients utilizing classic French techniques and exotic Asian flavors. Bon appetit!
A Master Chef
Born in Paris, Philippe Chin developed his fusion style of cooking early in life, taking his culinary cues from his Chinese father and French mother. With his mind set on becoming a chef at an early age, Chin has worked in France, the Caribbean and on the East Coast before coming to Somers Point. Chin is the youngest chef ever inducted into the Maitres Cuisiniers de France, earning him the title of Master Chef.
Vive la France
Never one to miss a chance for self-promotion, a Saturn emblazoned with a caricature of the chef and the logo "Vive la France" parked outside is a good indication that Philippe Chin is in the house.