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City Rebounds With Some Asian Flair
Feb 22nd, 2015 by

Douglas Tran (top) opened All Seasons Table in Malden in 2007. (Pat Greenhouse Photo/Globe Staff)

Douglas Tran (top) opened All Seasons Table in Malden in 2007. (Pat Greenhouse Photo/Globe Staff)

By Mark Micheli
(This story ran in the Feb. 22, 2015 edition of the Boston Sunday Globe.)

MALDEN — It took Maria Tran 11 tries before she successfully left Vietnam in 1984.

“It was not a trip. It was an escape,” said the owner of Maria’s Beauty Salon in Malden Square, who was one of the 2 million boat people who fled between 1975 and 1995 after the fall of Saigon.

Ten times she was caught and 10 times she was put in jail, from the time she was 14 until she was 18. Finally, she and her younger brother made it onto a fishing boat with 75 others and traveled for two weeks — with little food — to a US refugee camp in Malaysia.

Eventually she ended up in Malden, where she opened her hair salon 17 years ago. At the time, there were few other Asian-owned businesses in Malden Square. Today, they are in the majority.

Malden has a large Asian population, estimated at more than 23 percent of the nearly 60,000 residents. In a stretch of Pleasant Street in Malden Square — from the MBTA station to Main Street — there are 19 Asian-owned businesses, four of which opened in the past 14 months. Another four are scheduled to open this year.

They are filling up storefronts in Malden Square, bringing the vacancy rate to nearly zero, and playing a major role in the city’s downtown revitalization efforts. Those plans include tearing down City Hall to reopen Pleasant Street and replacing it with apartment buildings that include street-level commercial space.

Two large storefronts that have been empty for several years also are under construction and will open as Asian-owned businesses this year.

A 9,000-square-foot space at 21 Pleasant St. — which has been empty since Family Dollar moved out in 2008 — is being renovated into an upscale Asian seafood restaurant called Ming. Nearby at 46 Pleasant St., the five-floor, 28,000 square-foot former Bank of America branch that closed in 2012 is being gutted to house Bling, a 100-seat hot pot restaurant with 25 private entertainment rooms for karaoke, sports-TV parties, and business meetings.

“We looked at Boston, Cambridge, and Malden,” said Yuan Huang, 40, co-owner and managing partner of Bling, who was born in Beijing and came to the United States when he was 13.

Huang said he is one of seven partners who have invested more than $2 million to renovate the former bank building. Some of that money, he said, came from investors in China under a US government program that will help them gain citizenship for investing more than $500,000 in a business that will help stimulate the economy.

Huang said that the convenience of Malden was one of the major attractions, with the Orange Line, commuter rail, bus service, and parking garages all in the city center. Another attraction was the city’s large population of Chinese and college students, two demographics Bling is targeting.

Huang co-owns a real estate company that specializes in residential leasing in Greater Boston, including downtown Malden.

“We have cooperation with all of the Chinese student associations in the city in all the major colleges, and we have an exclusive relationship with them,” he said.

One of the oldest Asian businesses in the square is India Bazaar at 430 Main St. The large Indian grocery store opened in a smaller space about a block away in 1999 to serve the growing Indian population, said Varun Punj, 25. He took ownership of the store about six months ago, when his father died.

Varun Punj owns Indian Bazaar, a food store, one of the oldest Asian businesses in the city. (Wendy Maeda Photo/Globe Staff)

Varun Punj owns Indian Bazaar, a food store, one of the oldest Asian businesses in the city. (Wendy Maeda Photo/Globe Staff)

He said his father and uncle opened the store because there was a need to serve the Indian population here.

“There was only one store in the Greater Boston area, somewhere in Somerville,” said Punj, who moved from India to Malden when he was 6. “I remember as a kid, we used to go down there and it was quite a trip for us, especially not having a car.”

Now, there are two smaller Indian grocery stores and two large Asian supermarkets in Malden. But Punj, who graduated with a degree in business from Suffolk University last year, said he is not worried about competition. He said he will modernize the store and will also follow the business lessons he learned from his father.

“The foundation was already built,” he said. “I’m just continuing his legacy.”

Douglas Tran opened All Seasons Table — an Asian fusion restaurant with live jazz on the weekends — at 64 Pleasant St. in 2007. Business was so good, he expanded into an adjacent vacant storefront three years later to accommodate private functions and overflow crowds that still line up on the weekends.

Many believe his success was the turning point that encouraged more Asian restaurateurs to come to Malden.

Three Asian restaurants opened after All Seasons Table, and another three are scheduled to open this year, all within a few blocks of Tran’s restaurant. Still, Tran said he is not worried about the extra competition.

“Competition will make you better, smarter,” said Tran, 46, who came to the United States from Saigon — formerly the capital of South Vietnam — when he was 11. “It will make you work harder.”

Tran is opening another restaurant in Malden, at 2 Florence St. across from the MBTA station, where the Italian restaurant Artichokes once thrived before moving to Wakefield in 2009. Tran’s B&B Café will feature “new American cuisine.”

“We want to tap into what Malden doesn’t have now,” said Jackie Bouley, a manager at All Seasons Table who is a partner with Tran and All Seasons bar manager Andre Barbosa in the new venture. The restaurant is expected to open in late spring.

Steve Liu, 30, who last May opened Wow Barbecue — about a 10-minute walk from Malden Square on Salem Street — agrees competition is good but for a different reason.

“Malden has become a dining destination, especially for Chinese,” said Liu, who was born in Beijing, has a master’s in business from Babson College, and did a business analysis of the barbecue market in China before opening his restaurant a short walk from his home. “Having more [Chinese restaurants] will attract more Chinese to live here, and that will require even more restaurants.”

Malden Mayor Gary Christenson said his office helped steer business to Malden by streamlining the permitting process. The city also has targeted the Asian community by participating in cultural events in Boston’s Chinatown, as well as by hiring a liaison who speaks Chinese to work in the city’s strategy and business development office.

Still, the mayor admits he is concerned about there being too many Asian restaurants downtown.

“We’ve tried to encourage some of the newer [restaurants] to come up with a niche,” Christenson said. “We want them all to succeed, but realistically I think some duplication will cause that not to be.”

Kevin Duffy, the city’s strategy and business development officer, pointed out that although there are several Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants, there are also immigrants from many other countries who offer other kinds of food. Those restaurants serve Indian, Ethiopian, Cuban, Korean, Mexican, Italian, Haitian, Mediterranean, American, and Brazilian cuisine. Malden Square also has an Irish pub.

“If you come here and open up an ethnic food place, you can’t fake it,” Duffy said. “Someone will call you out on it because they know what it’s supposed to taste like.”

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Go Figure! Entrepreneur Uses 3D Printers To Make Sculptures Of You
Feb 17th, 2015 by

By Mark Micheli
(This story ran in the Feb. 17, 2015 edition of the Boston Globe.)

You don’t have to be a psychotic villain, plotting world domination while stroking a hairless cat in your lap, to want a “Mini-Me.”

Entrepreneur Yifei Zhang is betting the market for his lifelike figurines extends beyond characters from an Austin Powers movie.

A few of Yifei Zhang’s sandstone figurines, created from 3D imaging. (Pat Greenhouse Photo/Globe Staff)

A few of Yifei Zhang’s sandstone figurines, created from 3D imaging. (Pat Greenhouse Photo/Globe Staff)

Zhang, 28, of Malden, owns 3D Bean, which makes lifelike sandstone figurines by using 3D printing technology. He spent the past year developing a technique that uses 90 cameras to create 3D images in a small office in Malden Square. He is now ready to start marketing his services from a studio in Boston’s South End, where he is hoping to get more exposure.

“This product is very similar to a photo. It saves a moment in time and that is its value,” Zhang said. “It’s not just sandstone. It’s a moment that you won’t be able to capture again.”

The statues range in price from $319 to $1,299, and range in height from about 4 inches to 11-½ inches. Zhang said they are targeted at brides and grooms, parents of young children, pet owners — or anyone else who wants to capture a special moment.

Malden Mayor Gary Christenson and his sandstone figurine. (Wendy Maeda Photo/Globe Staff)

Malden Mayor Gary Christenson and his sandstone figurine. (Wendy Maeda Photo/Globe Staff)

Malden Mayor Gary Christenson bought two figurines of himself and gave them to his mother and sister during the holidays. He said his mother put hers in a glass case.

“As mayor, I don’t see my family as much as I would like, so I presented the gifts as a way for them to never lose touch with me,” Christenson joked. “You go through a lot of gifts around the holiday season but that one left them laughing like I’ve never seen before. My sister was speechless and she’s never, ever at a loss for words.”

Zhang uses 90 entry-level, Canon DSLR cameras, placed strategically in a circle, to take 90 images of a subject. Those photos are stitched together with software to create a 3D image. He then uploads the image to a 3D printing website, such asShapeways or Sculpteo, which prints out the statue and ships it.

Although the business model of using a third-party 3D printing company is not unusual, using sandstone as a material is quite different, said Anthony Vicari, who studies the 3D printing industry for Lux Research, an international company with offices in Boston.

Vicari said he knows of a few companies that make personal figurines using plastic or even paper and glue, but hasn’t heard of anyone using sandstone. A company called Corbel, in Vancouver, uses sandstone to create figurines that look identical to the type 3D Bean makes, but Zhang believes he is the only company in the Boston area doing this. He uses sandstone because the color is applied as the figurine is being built, not painted on later.

Yifei Zhang and his former studio in Malden, where he used 70 cameras to capture 3D images of his subjects. His new studio includes 90 digital cameras. (Pat Greenhouse Photo/Globe Staff)

Yifei Zhang and his former studio in Malden, where he used 70 cameras to capture 3D images of his subjects. His new studio includes 90 digital cameras. (Pat Greenhouse Photo/Globe Staff)

Zhang’s subjects have to remain still only for as long as it takes to snap one photo; all 90 cameras fire at once. He said he has a patent pending for a circular cage where cameras can be mounted without fear of them being accidently moved.

Somerville resident Christian Nachtrieb, who owns Brighter Lights Media, did some promotional videos for Zhang and as part of that process had a figurine of his dog made. Harvey is a 67-pound rescue boxer/pit bull mix who is a bit skittish, but his photo session only took about seven or eight minutes, Nachtrieb said.

“The bright lights kind of scared him but any normal, non-rescue dog that wasn’t traumatized shouldn’t have a problem,” he said. He noted that Harvey was recently treated for thyroid cancer and, although recent tests showed the cancer was gone, he wanted the figurine as a keepsake.

“A pet’s lifespan is so much shorter and instead of having just a picture, a figurine is so much better,” Nachtrieb said.

Vicari said more than half of the $2.3 billion 3D market involves industrial uses. The consumer 3D printing market is still in its infancy

“We’ve only started seeing products being made with 3D printing in the past five to 10 years,” Vicari said.

Although some 3D printers sell for only a few hundred dollars, printers that can make something that is actually functional cost several thousand dollars, according to Vicari. Zhang said he doesn’t have his own 3D printer because it would cost him about $80,000.

Zhang tried to raise $20,000 through a Kickstarter campaign last fall but he fell about $7,000 short of his goal. According to Kickstarter’s rules, he collected nothing. Instead he used his personal savings and got his parents in China and his fiancée to invest in his business. But first he had to educate them about 3D printing.

“My mother had no idea about 3D printing,” Zhang said. “But once I could make my parents understand what it is I am doing, they really believed this is something that could have a bright future.”

He said his next challenge is to educate consumers. Zhang, who earned a master’s degree in mechanical engineering at Northeastern University in 2012, said his expertise is technical and he’ll probably need a partner — “maybe one of my friends” — who can do the marketing.

Christenson said he believes there is a market for this and he became convinced of it after a few photos of his “Mini-Me” were posted on his Facebook page. He said the comments were extremely positive.

“People were stunned just by the clarity and how lifelike it looks,” he said.

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Forget the Snow, It’s Stew-A-Palooza - 2015
Jan 27th, 2015 by

(This is one of my favorite recipes from the weekly Dorm Room Chef series I produced during 2014. It’s steak pizzaiola made in a slow cooker: easy and delicious. Watch the video above, or read the recipe here.)

Here’s a collection of stews I compiled from good restaurants and cookbooks. I’ve made them all and enjoyed eating them more. Hopefully, you’ll have some of these ingredients on hand so you can make one of these dishes. But if not, watch the video and look at the pretty photos. It will warm you up more than looking at snow photos on Facebook.

The governor of Massachusetts declared a snow emergency and I’m declaring it stew-a-palooza — 2015!

STEWS TO MAKE ON A COLD WINTER DAY

  1. Geneva’s Quick Chicken And Shrimp Gumbo
  2. Shrimp Saute
  3. Easy Beef Bourguignon
  4. Coq Au Vin Blanc (The same as Easy Beef Bourguignon, only with chicken)
  5. Julia Child’s Beef Bourguignon
  6. Blanquette De Veau (French Veal Stew)
  7. Lobster Stew
  8. Steak Pizzaiola

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Coq Au Vin Blanc
Jan 16th, 2015 by

The sauce, with hints of brandy, white wine and herbs blends well with the savory flavor or hot mashed potatoes.

The sauce, with hints of brandy, white wine and herbs blends well with the savory flavor of hot mashed potatoes.

Coq au vin is traditionally made with red wine but I wasn’t in the mood for such a deep strong flavor. So I decided to make it using white wine and the results were perfect.

A few nights ago, I made a traditional beef bourguignon and followed that recipe, substituting bone-in chicken breasts and thighs for beef and white wine for red. I also used chicken stock, instead of beef.

The result was a light orange-colored sauce that had hints of brandy, white wine and gentle herbs. It went well with mashed potatoes.

Here’s the recipe:

Coq Au Vin Blanc

Ingredients:

  • Salt, to taste
  • 5 slices thick-cut smoked bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1/2 lb. crimini mushrooms, stems removed and cut into quarters (I used button mushrooms and portobello; oyster mushrooms would be nice too.)
  • 5 lbs (roughly), bone-in chicken breasts and thighs, cut up into large 2-inch chunks.
  • 1 cup chicken broth, divided
  • 3 Tbs. all-purpose flour
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1/2 lb. whole pearl onions, peeled
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 Tbs. tomato paste
  • 1/3 cup brandy
  • 3 cups chardonnay (or white burgundy)
  • 1 bouquet garni
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • Bouquet garni, 1
Procedure:
Heat a 5 qt. cocotte over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook until crispy, stirring often, 5 to 7 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a plate.

Add the mushrooms to the cocotte and cook until golden and just tender, stirring occasionally, 3 to 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the mushrooms to the plate with the bacon.

Season the chicken generously with the salt and pepper. Over medium-high heat, warm the cocotte. Working in 3 batches, brown the chicken on all sides until golden brown, 5 to 10 minutes per batch. Transfer the chicken to a plate.

After the last batch of chicken is browned, deglaze the cocotte with 1/2 cup chicken broth, scraping up the browned bits with a wooden spoon.  Return all the chicken, bacon, and mushrooms to the cocotte. Add the flour, stir to coat evenly, and cook for 1 minute.

Add the carrots, pearl onions, garlic, and tomato paste to the cocotte. Add the brandy and simmer for 30 seconds. Add the wine, remaining chicken broth, and bouquet garni to the cocotte and increase the heat to medium-high, bringing the liquid to a boil.

Transfer to the oven and cook for 1 hour. Check the stew and give it a stir. Continue cooking the stew, covered, until the chicken is fork-tender, about 30 minutes more. Taste the liquid and season with salt and pepper, if desired, and discard the bouquet garni.

Spoon the coq au vin into a shallow bowl. Serve with potatoes and garnish with parsley.

Find more recipes in the Food section.

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Christmas Eve Dinner
Dec 30th, 2014 by


(Chef Gina Palmacci from Legal Oysteria demonstrates how to make Antipasti Platter.)

The menu this Christmas Eve for 11 people at our house was as follows:

Appetizers included the prosciutto wrapped bread sticks and parmesan stuffed peppadew peppers demonstrated here by the head chef at Legal Oysteria in Charlestown. And of course dessert included espresso with your choice of poisons: dark rum, sambuca, or grappa.
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Dorm Room Chef: Microwave Chocolate Cake In One Minute
Aug 5th, 2014 by

Several months ago I created two weekly video series for the Boston Globe and Boston.com. Dorm Room Chef features Boston chefs preparing a dish that a college student could prepare in their dorm room. Drink of the Week features Boston bartenders creating a specialty cocktail on camera.

Periodically, I’ll be posting some of my favorite episodes of each series here on Rootsliving.

This dessert from B&G Oysters is one of my favorite recipes. I created it at home and served it with whipped cream. It’s fast, easy-to-make, and delicious, especially when the cake is served hot.

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