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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.”

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

Dorm Room Chef: Dante de Magistris Makes Steak Pizzaiola from Mark Micheli on Vimeo.

(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 or read the recipe below.)

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
STEAK PIZZAIOLA RECIPE:

This is one of my favorite Dorm Room Chef recipes. It’s easy — you just throw everything into a slow cooker and wait — and it’s delicious. Lots of flavors here — tart from the capers; sweet from the peppers; and hot from the red pepper flakes — with none of them overpowering the other. And it makes enough for four hungry college students.

Here’s the recipe from Chef Dante de Magistris of Restaurant dante and Il Casale:

Steak Pizzaiola
Ingredients
:

-2 lbs sirloin flap beef, (steak tips) sliced thin against the grain (about ¼ inch thick)

-1 tablespoon salt

-½ teaspoon hot red pepper flakes, (or more if you like it hot)

-½ teaspoon dry oregano

-¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

-2 cloves garlic

-2 tablespoons capers, plus some of it’s juice

-1 can 12 oz can crushed tomatoes

-½ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano or pecorino cheese

-1 small bunch fresh parsley leaves

-1 red or green pepper, sliced up

-1 medium size zucchini, sliced in half moons

Method:

1. Place all ingredients in a slow cooker, mix it up, put the lid on, turn to high heat, set timer for 3 hours. Serve hot

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.
Chicken in Milk: Strange, but True
Oct 15th, 2013 by
After browning the chicken I poured the grease into a baking dish and roasted potatoes, carrots, parsnips and apples for a side dish.

After browning the chicken I poured the grease into a baking dish and roasted potatoes, carrots, parsnips and apples for a side dish.

This was a pretty simple recipe, albeit an odd one. You basically put a chicken in a pot, brown it on all sides, remove the grease and then add milk, lemon zest and a cinnamon stick. The result is a tender, juicy and sweet, chicken with some unexpected flavors. I’d definitely make it again.

The recipe came from Jamie Oliver. I followed that recipe but took the advice of another cook who recommended cooking it covered for the first hour. Get the recipe here.

Find more recipes in the Food section.

Audio Slideshow: Roasted Applesauce
Sep 28th, 2013 by
Click on image to watch a short video on how to make roasted applesauce from scratch.

Click on image to watch an audio slideshow on how to make roasted applesauce from scratch.

Not sure what to do with all of this season’s apples? Make applesauce. Not sure what to do with all that applesauce?

Put it on pork chops. Mix it in yogurt. Add it to oatmeal. Swap it for oil in box cake-mixes. Swap it for sugar in recipes and save about 670 calories per cup. Toss it in a smoothie. Pour some in pancake batter. Spread it on a cracker, a piece of toast, plain bread, or a peanut butter sandwich. Freeze it for later. Eat it with a spoon. Dab a little behind your ear instead of perfume.

OK. The last one is a joke. But you get the point. Applesauce is versatile. And here’s an easy recipe that includes using the skins: the most nutritious part of the fruit that will help keep the doctor away. Read over the recipe below and watch the audio slideshow (above) before you start chopping all of those apples.

Ingredients:

  • Large apples: 9. Try using three different varieties for a more complex flavor.
  • Brown Sugar: 2-3 tablespoons.
  • Cinnamon: 1 tablespoon.
  • Lemon Juice: About 1/4 cup.
  • Brandy: One shot.

What I did:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Wash apples. Cut into quarters and core.

Place apples cut-side down on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil.

Bake in oven for about 30 minutes or until apples begin to turn to mush.

Let apples cool for about 10 minutes and then put them in a food processor.

Add brown sugar and cinnamon and pulse in food processor until well blended.

Add lemon juice and brandy and pulverize in food processor until well whipped and skins disappear.

Refrigerate until ready to use.

Mushrooms Stuffed With Nepitella Pesto
Sep 4th, 2013 by
Nepitella is a natural with mushrooms.

Nepitella is a natural with mushrooms.

It came to me in a dream: nepitella pesto. I thought that maybe I had invented the idea but a quick search online turned up one reference to it at a restaurant in New York called Osteria Morini.

There they team nepitella pesto with buffalo mozzarella on crostini or with fresh whipped ricotta topped with peas and asparagus. I’m sure that doesn’t taste bad, but what were they thinking? Everyone knows nepitella pairs perfectly with mushrooms and artichokes: everyone, in the small minority of people in this country who have heard of nepitella.

So let me let you in on the secret. Nepitella is an herb that grows wild in Tuscany (and in my driveway after I transplanted a small plant from my grandmother’s garden about 15 years ago). Some describe it as a cross between oregano and mint, but I believe it’s more like a cross between basil and mint. And I wouldn’t think of cooking mushrooms or artichokes without it.

So when I was inspired to try to make nepitella pesto the logical use for it was to stuff mushrooms with it. And the result was perfect.

The pesto by itself, without any cooking, was much stronger than a basil pesto: more earthy and with a sharp bite, almost spicy flavor. But when it cooked inside the mushrooms, the taste mellowed into a more mild buttery flavor: still very earthy but without the sharpness of the raw nepitella pesto.

If you’d like to try this, finding nepitella will be a challenge, but a search online revealed a few places that sell the plant. Or just stop by my driveway: there this evasive plant grows wild in cracks and along narrow dirt patches along the fence.

NEPITELLA PESTO:

Ingredients:

  • Nepitella leaves (washed, about a half a cup)
  • Pignoli nuts (about 1/4 cup)
  • Garlic (4-6 cloves)
  • Extra-virgin olive oil (about 1/2 cup)
  • Parmesan cheese (About 1/4- 1/2 cup; Imported, freshly grated. Don’t use the stuff they sell in a jar; Or use freshly grated Romano and/or Pecorino if you’d like to save some money.)
  • Kosher salt and pepper.

What I did:

Put nuts and garlic in food processor with a steel blade and process for about 15 seconds.

Add nepitella leaves, salt and pepper.

With processor running slowly add the olive oil until it’s completely pureed.

Add cheese and process for another minute.

If you don’t use it right away, put in refrigerator with plastic wrap touching the top or with a film of olive oil on top. This will prevent discoloring.

To Stuff Mushrooms:

Pull off stems, clean caps with paper towel.

Put clean caps in a baking dish that has been greased with a small amount of olive oil.

Spoon in nepitella pesto and bake at 350 for about 15 minutes.

You can serve it as is or with a shaved piece of parmesan cheese on top and/or a pignoli nut.

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