They’re ugly things, the fried chicken roulades at Sunnyside Moldovan restaurant Boon by Moldova. And when plunked down next to colorful grilled vegetables and lush heaps of buttery mashed potatoes, the breadcrumb-coated torpedoes look even less impressive. But cut into them and you’ll unleash a flow of jack cheese studded with dill fronds and sour pickles. It’s the epitome of comfort food, as pleasurable as a good chicken-fried steak.
Boon calls these delights parjoale tiraspol, named for Moldova’s second largest city. Owner Radu Panfil emigrated from the Eastern European country’s capital, Chisinau — about an hour’s drive from Tiraspol — more than a decade ago. In 2013, he opened New York’s first Moldovan restaurant (simply named Moldova) on Coney Island Avenue in Midwood, a place he still runs with his sister Sorina Panfil and her husband, Ion Dodu. In July, they expanded into Sunnyside with Boon, whose name, Sorina says, is a “game of sounds”: a “boon,” of course, is something beneficial, and bun means “good” in Romanian, Moldova’s primary language. (Moldova and Romania share a border, and the Queens neighborhood has both a healthy Romanian community and a burgeoning Moldovan demographic, so the move made sense.)
Though more sprawling than the narrow, artifact-laden flagship, this younger sibling is no less convivial. The rustic dining room proves itself a comfortable setting, with bright murals and hand-painted detailing by Moldovan artist Alexei Luca. The friendly waitstaff wear traditional tunics embroidered with vivid floral designs. On weekend nights, Romanian pop musicians take the back-corner stage as diners munch on flaky, vegetable-friendly Moldovan pies filled with farmer’s cheese, potatoes, and onions or cabbage.
Portions skew huge, so don’t expect to handle appetizers, such as the overstuffed peppers and squares of fried Romanian cheese, by yourself. In fact, you’re better off bringing a group to experience platters of smoked fish, pickled produce (from mushrooms to watermelon), pastrami, or spicy spreadable cheese. The same goes for the elaborate salads, including one involving matchsticks of veal tongue and cucumber, and a seemingly out-of-place but endearing pile of crunchy daikon radish, spicy roasted shrimp, and flying-fish roe. Even mititei, the casing-less grilled Romanian sausages, are more substantial than usual here, the fat links sitting atop peas and crowned with a nest of onions.
Eat at Boon and you’ll get to know mamaliga well. Firmer than grits and finer than polenta, the fluffy cornmeal porridge pops up all over the menu. It makes a notable starter, rolled into fried golf ball–size orbs packed with cubes of bacon; dipped into sour cream and coated in feta cheese, the corn balls are sturdier than your average hush puppy. The mamaliga accompanies some meals as a starchy side dish. It’s also available as a main course next to soft-stewed pork and a sunny-side-up egg: the breakfast-for-dinner of your dreams.
For an old-fashioned taste of the region, look no further than ciorba, the sour soups that almost bristle from bors, a juice of sorts made by fermenting wheat bran with black bread and sour-cherry leaves. The bors adds an undercurrent of acidity to the ciorba de burta, an opaque, garlicky sour cream soup bobbing with soft ribbons of tripe. A similar dish replaces the offal with spongy meatballs made of ground pork and veal, lending the soup a gentler meatiness. There’s also a rabbit entrée presented as bone-in hunks smothered in gravy. The meat is tender, its mild flavor enriched by the velvety sauce.
Save room for dessert. Moldovans like their sweets, which largely put fruits and vegetables to simple, dazzling use. The kitchen stuffs prunes, roasted apples, and pears with walnuts and honey; bakes pastries brimming with sweet pumpkin; and fills dumplings and rolled crepes with sour cherries. Plump jam doughnuts come smothered in sour cream, and cakes are plenty surprising. The bittersweetness of the baba neagra, a yogurt cake baked until it turns a shade of mahogany, is offset by the drizzled-on cherry sauce. Its polar opposite is the dense noodle pudding called baba alba, which is made with boiled-then-baked pasta and steamed raisins. And if there’s music that night, neither is heavy enough to prevent you from hitting the dancefloor.
Boon by Moldova
43-45 40th Street, Queens