WHO’S IN CHARGE Beside the front counter of Infused Kreyol hangs a black and white portrait of the owner-operators, identical twins Dominique and Daniella Zephyr-Gutierrez, captured in a moment of exuberance.
That kind of spirit does indeed permeate the new restaurant in downtown Malden that serves dishes inspired by Haitian, Dominican, and Caribbean cuisine. Opening an upscale restaurant featuring family recipes has long been a dream of the twins, both longtime state social workers who grew up in Malden.
Infused Kreyol pays homage to their late father of Haitian descent and their late mother, of Haitian-Dominican descent, whose portraits also watch over the dining area. “My family always talked about opening a restaurant; we never had a chance and then we came across this property and got the ball rolling,” Dominique explained. “It was a blessing.” She and her sister cook when they’re not working their day jobs for the state or running their event-planning business.
THE LOCALE Located in a former Asian restaurant near the intersection of Main and Ferry streets, Infused Kreyol artfully makes use of its rectangular storefront space with large windows and an “art walk” hallway graced by paintings from regional and national artists.
The décor features exquisite details such as stark white plates, gold-hued silverware, hip patterns on the chairs, and a room separator created with wood and brass bells. There’s a painting of “Le Marron Inconnu de Saint-Domingue,” a Port-au-Prince sculpture of a liberated slave that’s a potent symbol of a free Haiti. The place can seat 40 and serves beer and wine.
ON THE MENU Some meals defy explanation about why they taste so good. Yes, I can isolate a spice note here or there or pick out consistency of heat or texture. But sometimes a dish just has something indefinable, a quality that lights up the mouth with pure pleasure.
That is how I found the dishes at Infused Kreyol. The meat, the fish, the rice, and the pasta were all imbued with something special, perhaps a sense of skill or perhaps the balance of elements.
The service was excellent, starting with the baskets of crispy plantain chips brought to our table. The bacon-wrapped plantains ($10), one of a several small plates or appetizers, matched salty bacon with the plantain’s sweet mush.
The bowls of stewed chicken ($15) and the roast pork plate ($15) were comforting and deeply satisfying. A standout: The Legume Zephyr ($15) is a dish with beef, cabbage, eggplant, garlic, chayote squash, carrots, and spinach that came steeped in “Zephyr’s Homemade Marinade,” the family’s own concoction of spices. It was medley of flavors with a buzz.
An unexpected delight was the Kreyol pasta, ($18), penne smothered in a spicy cream sauce with a choice of chicken and shrimp or Andouille sausage and shrimp. Another welcome surprise was the fried haddock ($15), served steaming hot with savory breading — as good as anything you’d find in a waterfront place. The Griot ($15), a pork shoulder marinated and fried in a savory sauce, was on the dry side but the flavor was rich.
We must also emphasize the delectable sides here, such as the marinated slices of colorful peppers and onion, which tasted as bright as they look. Plates come with a choice of sweet or green plantains and black, Spanish, or white rice with Sos Pwa, a traditional Haitian bean puree.
Other dishes, such as Hispaniola, a mixed Haitian/Dominican dish, ($18) and the Shrimp & Grits ($16), are served Friday to Sunday. There’s also sandwich and salad choices.
You’ll be filled by the generous portions, but make room for the wonderful Gigi’s Cream Corn Soufflé ($6), which recalled Indian pudding with a Caribbean lilt.
Infused Kreyol, 423 Main St., Malden. 781-388-0938, www.infusedkreyol.com.
Stephanie Schorow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.