Cantonese restaurant

The Year I Ate in New York: Come Broth With Me

Hot pot in the cold, at 886.
Photo: Tammie Teclemariam

This article originally appeared in The year I ate in New York, a food newsletter across the city, one restaurant at a time. register here.

As I type these words, the hottest table in Brooklyn is Bonnie’s, the Cantonese restaurant in Williamsburg that opened in early December. Everyone I know has either been to Bonnie’s, wants to go to Bonnie’s, or eats at Bonnie’s all the time. I must have seen the restaurant’s tropical fruit platter a hundred times on Instagram before seeing it in person. By the time I arrived at the restaurant last week, I thought to myself that I knew what to expect. Then I tried the broth.

Always take the broth, that’s my motto. Or at least it should be. I desperately want to be a broth person, perpetually beshawled and sipping hot, collagen-rich meat infusions from morning till night. The broth virus hit me particularly hard this winter, so it was without hesitation that I ordered the pot of chicken broth from Bonnie’s.

As we were seated, I noticed that everyone was waiting at the door to have their vaccination records checked. Most arrived in groups, hoping to secure the large round table by the front window, which not only has excellent visibility so you can be seen from the sidewalk, but also – perhaps more crucially – sports a lazy Susan. At the bar, an older man who seemed like a regular laughed with two women by his side as he finished a malted milk sundae.

A pot of broth at Bonnie’s.
Photo: Tammie Teclemariam

Soon, a metal teapot like one would find in virtually any Chinese restaurant arrived from the kitchen, filled with golden chicken liquid, flanked with fresh cilantro and scallions. My friend and I served each other the broth in our matching teacups throughout the night. But instead of satisfying my cravings, it mostly succeeded in whetting my appetite for more broth.

Broth is so basic and essential that it’s hard for anyone to truly lay claim to it, but the revival of modern broth can be dated to 2014 and the opening of the first Brodo window. Today, Brodo is a full-fledged business with a subscription service in addition to four New York locations. If there is a Broth Person mothership, this is it; there are people who go to Brodo to breakfast.

One of the benefits of broth is that it is nutritious in its most basic elemental form. The broth is simple, but inside the West Village Brodo store, I struggled to order, choosing first from the four broths available and then from the multitude of flavors and added fats. I also noticed an option for a 96 ounce can of broth, although I couldn’t even imagine the occasion that would necessitate such an order. “Do you sell a lot of wholesale?” I asked. “All the time,” replied one employee. “People order them for events.” I ended up ordering beef brodo with “tom yum” ingredients mixed in. It cost $11.

Madame Vo’s pho.
Photo: Tammie Teclemariam

Broth is life, but I was starting to crave real food. I decided to test the broth’s bone-warming properties further by ordering a version that came with noodles. I was relieved, on another very cold night, to be seated right away at Madame Vo, the Vietnamese restaurant where pho is a specialty. I was happy, but can’t say the same for the couple who walked in after me and refused their reservation as they didn’t want to sit at the long bar that ran along the wall of the narrow space. No soup for them.

Behind me, almost every diner had a deep bowl of something broth. I had come for the homemade pho, which is made with beef broth that simmers for 24 hours. Switching between a bite of brisket and a sip of soup, I started seeing everything in the broth binary. Anything could be broth, unless it’s not. My pandan soymilk: refrigerated broth. My morning coffee: superior broth. A carafe of sake: lower broth. Dumplings: Definitely not broth, but definitely something that has a wonderful relationship to broth.

I know that last point to be true because of a bowl of broth I ordered at Agi’s counter in Crown Heights, just at the start of her lunch service when I had an entire wing of terrazzo counter for me. Although tiny Hungarian dumplings were suspended in the broth, they only existed, as far as I was concerned, to support the perfectly translucent yellow chicken broth. Is there too much broth? I wondered as I sipped my bowl. Not when it’s so cold, I decided definitively. I’m warm and hydrated and see no reason to rush into a mostly solid food diet.

Graphic: New York Magazine

27. KIT 28. Finalist 29. Bonnie’s 30. Brodo 31. 886 31. Madame Vo Kitchen 33. Wheated