Growing up in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, Calvin Eng resisted the cuisine of his heritage. But after learning French techniques in the culinary program at Johnson & Wales University and cooking professionally at restaurants like Nom Wah Nolita and Win Son, the 27-year-old chef is finally embracing his food culture at his very own Cantonese American restaurant.
Named for his immigrant mother, Bonnie’s celebrates the dishes Calvin ate—albeit reluctantly—as a child. The menu is filled with traditional banquet plates like hup to ha (fried shrimp with candied walnuts), as well as creative takes on classics like wun tun en brodo (fish and shrimp wontons in a superior citrus parmesan broth.)
Bonnie’s occupies a Williamsburg corner space just 10 minutes on foot from the apartment Calvin shares with his video producer girlfriend Phoebe Melnick. “I always knew I wanted to keep it in Brooklyn,” he insists, citing both a love for his native borough and convenient parking as reasons for choosing the location.
The couple designed the Hong Kong diner-inspired restaurant as well as their cozy one-bedroom rental together, prioritizing a minimal-yet-warm aesthetic and one-of-a-kind treasures in both places. “Calvin’s a really big fan of having things that nobody else can have,” Phoebe explains, to which he confirms, “It doesn’t have to be expensive or special—just unique.”
Though many restaurants have shuttered throughout the pandemic, the industry was still shocked to see Chelsea institution Del Posto announce it was closing in April 2021. The only consolation was its “everything must go” auction that included front-of-house furniture, fixtures, decor, and more. “It was big news,” Calvin remembers.
At the time, Bonnie’s was under construction and Calvin thought he might be able to purchase some high-end essentials for budget prices. He needed glassware and refrigerators, specifically. Though he ordinarily wouldn’t buy used appliances, new options were backordered, and he trusted the establishment’s quality control. “Of course, Del Posto was going to use the best of the best,” he considers.
On the day of the auction, Phoebe monitored the livestream from her laptop at home. It continued for hours, so she eventually switched to watching on her phone and met Calvin for drinks at Talea Beer Co. Though the glassware and refrigeration turned out to be too costly, a burgundy-hued marble table caught Phoebe’s eye.
The auctioneer mentioned a small crack in the stone, but the livestream was so blurry and laggy that Calvin and Phoebe couldn’t properly assess the damage. Liquid courage, however, prompted them to bid on the table anyway, and they won it for $40. Plus, they managed to snag a butter-colored marble bowl to go with it.
Immediately upon claiming their prize, Calvin and Phoebe realized the auctioneer had severely understated the size, severity, and number of fractures in the table. “Everything was cracked and that’s why nobody else was bidding on it, I guess,” he reflects. “It was too good to be true.”