Chef Calvin Eng shares the inspiration behind five dishes on the Bonnie’s menu.
“The whole mission of this restaurant was to really educate people on what Chinese food is and what it can be,” says Chef Calvin Eng, the founder of Bonnie’s in Brooklyn. The former Win Son chef now helms one of the hottest restaurants in the city, complete with delicious food and an incomparable vibe. But that wasn’t necessarily what he had envisioned.
“Cantonese food wasn’t really evolving in New York. All of the spots were closing even before the pandemic, all the owners are getting older. The kids aren’t pursuing it. The parents don't want their kids to. As I traveled to Hong Kong and other countries, I saw how Cantonese food could also be this way. It’s what inspired me to open Bonnie’s,” he says.
The menu is packed with delicious choices, so many that you really can’t go wrong. Here are the inspirations behind five of Chef Eng’s favorite dishes on the menu at Bonnie’s.
“This is actually my mom’s recipe. It’s clams with black beans sauce cooked in an egg custard. Growing up, when I was making it, she taught me to measure with egg shells. 1 egg shell to ½ times water is the exact right amount to form the custard. It’s something I’ve made my whole life and I’m excited to share it with people. The egg custard is a super homey dish and technique that you don’t really see in a lot of restaurants. It’s super smooth and silky, with herbs, and hot oil over the top.”
“I didn’t want to have roast meats or dim sum at the restaurant because that’s something that New York’s Chinatown does really well. This chicken is definitely a traditional way of cooking it. Every family has their own recipe. At the restaurant, we cure it to add a little more flavor throughout the bird, and serve it cold, with hot oil on top and pickled green mustard.”
“This is a dish that we made at home, maybe once or twice a month. My mom, my aunt, and I would make it together. We’d get a fish, butterfly it, remove all the bones, take the meat and form it into a giant fish patty and put it back in the fish. This is something that I could never find at any restaurant and now I know why (it’s super labor intensive) but everyone who comes in says it reminds them of something because Cantonese people love having a whole fish. We serve it with eight slices (eight is a lucky number) and a pickled green mustard condiment and lettuce.”
“When I first thought about putting this dish on the menu I thought, ‘is this too fusiony?’ But I couldn’t not add it and I couldn’t not call it cacio e pepe. I made a similar compound butter dish and served it at Win Son. This cacio though, is very fermented bean forward, with a creamy, funky, umami flavor. If you’re thinking you’re getting a classic cacio, you’re probably going to hate it.”
“Remember when I said I didn’t want any roast meat or dimsum? Well, one day I was lying in bed and I thought we needed a sandwich, but I didn’t want a chicken sandwich or a burger. This idea started at the Meat Hook where I did a Cha Siu Ham Sandwich. I just took it a step further by doing steamed ribs and putting it in a sandwich. We hit it with hot Chinese mustard, and it’s definitely a favorite here.