It’s a winning story if ever there was one: The son, raised in his father’s Chinese restaurant in Newton, goes to culinary school in San Francisco, works in California when he graduates, then decides to return home to be closer to his family and learn his dad’s trade. One day last summer, the father and son are in a tiny Roslindale Chinese takeout to help the struggling owner when she announces that her business is for sale.
That’s how Christopher Lin, 30, became a restaurant owner. “We both looked at each other and decided to do it,’’ says the son, whose father, Joseph, 76, owned Seven Star Mandarin House in Newton Centre with his family for over two decades. “It’s the first time we’ve cooked together,’’ says Christopher.
But winning stories are like luck: They’re nothing without skill. And the duo of luck and skill makes people like Lin unstoppable.
He offers modern versions of the Taiwanese street food he learned when he and his dad toured the father’s homeland (his mother is a New Englander). You’ll find extraordinary orange-soy glazed baby back ribs ($8-$16), scallion pancakes with sliced beef inside ($8), slender, crisp vegetarian spring rolls with cabbage and carrots ($6), fried crab rangoon in triangular shapes, the creamy filling wonderful with the crisp wrappers ($7), and the best hot and sour soup I’ve ever sipped ($4 and $7), a taste that is actually hot, sweet, and sour, with gingery spoonfuls of tofu, mushrooms, and cabbage. “It’s my father’s signature dish,’’ says Lin.
The chef buys meat from T.F. Kinnealey & Co. (owners of John Dewar & Co., which recently closed its Newton Centre location; the butcher was across from Lin’s father’s restaurant). That quality shows in deliciously spicy and tender meat in Sichuan spiced beef ($9), with bell peppers, water chestnuts, and peanuts. Taiwan-style pork chop, one of Lin’s street food riffs ($10), contains a medley of fun textures with a chewy chop, fried egg and its runny yolk, and slices of pickled radish, all on a bed of fried rice. Spicy green beans ($8) are bright, very crisp, lightly charred, and cooked with addictive salty pork bits. Faintly hot and very creamy is ma po tofu ($8) flecked with peas and peppers. And fried rice ($7), with pork and bits of egg, is an exemplary dish.
Seven Star’s dining room is so small, you might think you’re in the entrance. There are eight seats, where you can dine in (no restroom), and a theater curtain to keep out the cold (it doesn’t do much good).
Lin kept the name Seven Star to honor his father and because seven is a lucky number in Chinese culture. This is largely a takeout operation, every item made to order, four other cooks working with the father-son team to keep up. Still, you phone in an order and it will go into the queue and you might be picking it up in an hour or more. Counter workers are friendly (one woman is Christopher’s fiance). “All the guests who came to my father’s restaurant were considered friends,’’ he says. “All the people who come in here matter to us.’’
The son returned to Boston, he says, because he wanted the opportunity to learn from his father while he had the chance. “My father and I cook together every night. Yeah, it’s pretty cool.’’
Sheryl Julian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.