Sunday, June 03, 2007

Malden has twitches of life

“Doesn’t the sun ever shine in Malden?” one friend asked me a few months ago after seeing my cloudy-day photos of my hometown. It still never seems to shine when I’m there, but I did find a couple of oases last Friday evening. One was the Exchange Street Bistro (not safe for work if your speakers are on), which I visited despite a Web site designed to keep me away. Fortunately, the crowd was not limited to thin women in their 20s and the men who lust after them. At 6:30 p.m., the front dining area was Classic Malden, with Early Bird seniors and young families who seemed a bit intimidated by the place. (My mother confirms that the bistro has a local reputation as "expensive," which proves that her sources haven't dined in Boston for the past couple of decades.) The back dining room did seem more Sex and the City, but I only saw it on the way to the bathroom. My hangout was the bar in the middle, where a very nice older gentleman told me three times that the Exchange Street Bistro was “more South End than Malden.” In case I didn’t get it, he also noted that he usually goes to Fritz on Saturday nights. Actually, the bar was neither as pretentious as the South End in 2007 nor as gay ghetto as the South End circa 1990. I felt more like I was in an off-season resort town in Maine or on Cape Cod, which isn’t too far-fetched given how quiet downtown Malden is. The bartenders and waitstaff were having fun, the patrons were chatty, and the dress was decidedly casual. I had three cocktails, including one revelation: a tequila on the rocks that was better for sipping than for downing in one shot. Afterward, I tried the clunkily named All Seasons Table Restaurant -- which, astonishingly, is more Upper West Side than Malden. The décor was subdued but chic, the crowd was largely Asian but inclusive of all ethnic types, and the music was a live band playing Antonio Carlos Jobim tunes (see photo). I had some very good shrimp shumai and a plate of shrimp and scallops cooked in sake and ginger. I think it would have been just as good with ordinary chicken — if the scallops had much flavor, it didn’t survive the sake bath — but the food did make me want to come back. Though both places were busy, I didn't get the sense that there was much overlap in the clientele (no Asians at Exchange Street, though it was otherwise racially mixed). Malden should figure out some way to string its jewels together; this is one case where a bunch of street-lamp banners guiding pedestrians to the next attraction (there are also a couple of Italian restaurants and Irish pubs in the area, but no two places are next to each other) would actually do some good.

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