Calvin Eng is the former chef de cuisine at Taiwanese-American restaurant Win Son and, before that, chef at dim sum parlor Nom Wah. Now he’s looking to do something a little different at Bonnie’s, opening this fall in Williamsburg.
“The flavors and dishes I’ll be serving at Bonnie’s will remind you of Cantonese cuisine, but the techniques used to cook will come from the West,” the 26-year-old chef explains. “I wouldn’t call it ‘fusion.’ I will be cooking my version of Cantonese food as an American-born Cantonese chef.”
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Eng hopes to serve good food while also preserving a restaurant culture that’s slowly fading away. “Most of the food that you find in Manhattan’s Chinatown neighborhood is Cantonese food, but a lot of the places closed down during the pandemic,” he says. “The owners are also getting older and retiring. The kids are in different fields and won’t take over the businesses. So, eventually, the [culture] will die off. I just want to continue it and evolve it.”
Bonnie’s menu will include a savory steamed egg custard (“a homey dish I ate growing up”) and cold poached chicken and shrimp and walnuts (“my go-to dish at every Chinese banquet I went to as a kid”). Eng is quick to point out that “every Chinese and Cantonese dish that I know how to make is through my mom,” who migrated to New York from Hong Kong at the age of 13 and has been living here ever since. The menu isn’t Eng’s only homage to his mother. In fact, he considers the entire 48-seat restaurant a tribute to her, as Bonnie is her American name.
While he’s focusing on Cantonese at Bonnie’s, Eng (and his mom) enjoy trying all the different Chinese food throughout New York. Here are a few of their favorite restaurants in the city.
Calving Eng’s (And His Mom’s) Favorite NYC Chinese Restaurants
This restaurant with booth seating is Eng’s mom’s favorite. “[The restaurant] offers my [go-to]: cha siu. I sometimes order it over rice, and other times I like to have it in a ho fun noodle soup.”
“What’s fun about dim sum is you get to eat with your eyes first, and see the product before you decide what you want to fill your table with. My table typically has har gow, siu mai, stuffed peppers, lo mai gai, and every variation of rice rolls. My favorite rice roll order is zhaliang, which is a fried cruller wrapped in a rice roll drenched in soy sauce.”
M Star Cafe
M Star is a cha chaan teng, a traditional Hong Kong-style cafe that also offers a Western spin on a classic Cantonese menu. Eng’s usual order is Hong Kong French toast, macaroni soup, cheung fun with all the sauces, and a milk tea.
“Kamboat Bakery & Cafe serves the best egg tarts and Portuguese-style egg tarts. They also have a back kitchen that definitely caters more to the Chinatown locals. They serve up all sorts of stir-fried noodles and congees that are very grab-and-go friendly.”
Hop Lee Restaurant
Given the size of the menu here, Eng suggests dining with a group of 8-10 for dinner. The order? “Lobster Cantonese style, young chow fried rice, clams with black bean sauce, fried squid, steamed fish, and shrimp and walnuts.”
Ho Won Bake Shoppe
When dining at the tiny coffee shop, Eng recommends the pre-rolled cheung fun with dried shrimp and pork. “It’s my go-to.”
Yi Ji Shi Mo
The cheung fun served at this rice roll shop have “the perfect texture,” says Eng. “Not too thin and not too thick.”