Brother and sister duo Radu and Sorina Panfil have been bringing their version of Moldovan cuisine to Sunnyside since July 2016. There, they serve a mix of traditional comfort food and dishes with Romanian and Russian elements.
The siblings’ father owned two restaurants in Moldova, a small country bordered by Romania and Ukraine, and Radu Panfil was inspired to open his own kitchen in America. He came to the United States in 2005 and opened Moldova in Midwood, Brooklyn.
His sister Sorina came to the states in 2008, where she worked in finance. But Radu Panfil wanted to expand his restaurant and called on his sister to help open Boon by Moldova in Sunnyside.
“I was on my maternity leave and my brother said, ‘Come on, let’s try this’ and I said, ‘Why not? I’m in my 30s, this is the opportunity for me to see if I’m good at it [or] not good at it, see how much I like to be a business owner, what challenges are there.'”
The restaurant, located at 43-45 40th St., used to be a Romanian eatery, and Sorina Panfil said the large Romanian community in the area pushed them to open Boon in Sunnyside. The owners were also encouraged by the young crowd with adventurous taste buds in the area.
“Sunnyside is so close to the city and it’s a growing area and it’s an area where you have a lot of young people with a cool mind set, like they wouldn’t be scared to try something new,” she said.
Sorina Panfil’s husband was responsible for the design at the spacious restaurant, which features hand-painted designs, a stage for weekend performances and portraits of men, women and children in traditional Moldovan outfits on the bathroom doors. The building also has a back room that can fit about 80 people, which makes it popular for weddings, christenings and other events.
Boon’s menu features a plethora of items at affordable prices. Mamaliga, fried polenta balls with feta cheese and pork belly, is a popular dish along with the restaurant’s Moldovan pies, which are called plăcintă. The fried pies are filled with ingredients like farmer’s cheese, potato or spinach. The dessert version is filled with sour cherry spread or pumpkin.
Ciorba cu afumatura si fasole, smoked meat soup with beans, is inspired by the Russian dish solanka. Sorina Panfil said the duo also tries to cater to vegetarians and those who may be hesitant to try the more traditional meals.
They offer a vegetable platter that contains peppers, eggplant, zucchini, vegetable spreads and an array of salads like the fanetzie with avocado, lox, tomatoes, onions, crepes with cream cheese and red caviar.
“The salads are more fusion cuisine,” she said. “We are a restaurant that is striving to accommodate a variety of tastes. No matter what your background is, where you’re coming from, you definitely have something to choose from here.”
Pierogis are also a favorite at Boon and diners can enjoy the Moldovan version with a sour cherry filling, called Coltunasi. The desserts range from prune uscate umplute cu nuci, sweet prunes stuffed with nuts and covered in chocolate, and the Romanian donut, which is called papanaşii prăjiţi. The donuts are served warm, stuffed with farmer’s cheese, and slathered in jam and cream.
Boon is also one of the few places to sell Moldovan wine.
“Moldova is not very well known, but one of the things we’re known for is wine,” Sorina Panfil said.
Mileștii Mici, a wine producer in the country, has the largest wine collection in the world. It has an underground cellar that holds nearly 2 million bottles of wine.
According to Sorina Panfil, Boon is different from other establishments in that the owners want diners to take their time while they eat and enjoy the entertainment, which is provided by the Boon Band on weekends. A duo sings Romanian, Russian and American favorites, and Sorina Panfil is hoping to incorporate violin players in the future.
“We are a slow-paced dining environment because we have live entertainment on the weekend,” she said. “It’s not come and go. You sit down, you enjoy a nice glass of wine, enjoy an appetizer. The main course will come slowly.”
Sorina Panfil said the family is grateful to have the opportunity to expand the restaurant and provide a meeting place for the growing Moldovan population in Queens.
“Bun means good in Romanian,” she said. “When you say enjoy your food you would say ‘pofta bune,’ you’re a good person [translates to] ‘persona buna,’ everything that is good is the word bun. It’s a word with a lot of meanings. As it turned out bun also meant something in English. Boon is a blessing. We kind of feel like it’s a blessing to own this place…to have a space for everybody but also a space for Moldovans that don’t really have a place so they can celebrate weddings and christenings and all those nice events in your life, they didn’t have that.”
For more information, visit Boon’s website.