When Jimmy Chin's daughter turned 16, he threw her a Sweet Sixteen party at Chin Chin, the eclectic upscale Chinese restaurant he opened in 1987 on 49th Street between Second and Third Avenue. Mariah Carey called to wish her "Happy Birthday" because, well, "Mariah is an old friend of mine," Chin casually recounts. They spoke for forty minutes. And half an hour later two dozen roses arrived for his daughter.
And that's just one of the countless memories Chin has filed away — along with meeting Joe DiMaggio, Michael Jordan, and Mick Jagger — as he prepares to shutter his stalwart Chinese fusion restaurant after dinner service tonight.
As is frequently the case these days, Chin explains that his landlord is drastically raising rent, pricing him out of his longtime home. Chin also cites a changing demographic in Midtown, stating that after almost 30 years of business, many of his regulars have grown old. So, he's looking to attract a new, young set of customers: "Instead of melting away and dying, I'm going downtown to rejuvenate myself and get young again."
Chin, surprisingly upbeat, admits to feeling sentimental about Chin Chin's final hours. But, he's equally excited about the future, which will likely begin next spring on the Lower East Side. Though nothing is official just yet, and a lease is presently in negotiations, Chin is looking to move all furniture, fixtures, and equipment from 49th Street to a space near Rivington and Essex, roughly the same size Chin Chin is now. About 150 seats. But the new restaurant, which will continue under the Chin Chin name, will incorporate a revamped menu, plus a bar/ lounge that will play "good music," and remain open until 3 a.m. The kitchen might serve until 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. too, but that's still to be determined.
Overall, Chin plans to open an exact replica of Chin Chin, and with a few tweaks he hopes to attract a new generation of diners. That means some of the restaurant's staple dishes like Grand Marnier shrimp will make the move, but expect new additions like steamed buns with a variety of fillings, and a Japanese/Chinese grill for yakitori. But, that's all he can reveal for now because the menu is still a work in progress. As for Chin Chin's 49th Street replacement, Water Mill's Beijing-style Red Stixs is set to takeover.