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Crispy Peking duck, glazed Chinese spare ribs and tender chickens turning on rotisserie spits will be the first eye-popping spectacle to greet diners entering the new Pagoda Kitchen in Delray Beach.
A pair of six-foot-tall vertical rotisseries are the centerpiece of veteran restaurateur Burt Rapoport’s first “home-style Chinese restaurant,” opening this October inside Delray Marketplace. It replaces the former Mediterranean eatery Apeiro and sits next door to Burt & Max’s, Rapoport’s eatery devoted to American comfort food.
Rapoport admits that Pagoda, specializing in Chinese comfort food, is far removed from the Jewish delis (see: the late Rappy’s), upscale Italian and American spots (Prezzo, Deck 84) that are his wheelhouse. The famed Palm Beach restaurateur grew up in an apartment above his grandfather’s kosher dairy restaurant in Manhattan, his Jewish family knowing little about Chinese food beyond Chinatown and “takeout every Sunday night,” he says.
“For me it’s reminiscent of going to Chinatown restaurants as a kid and seeing Peking ducks hanging in the windows,” Rapoport says. “I just wanted to capture the senses for visitors right away.”
Describing the cuisine as “traditional Chinese but for Americanized palates,” Rapoport says the 5,600-square-foot Pagoda will feature an indoor bar and dedicated take-out window, while its 2,500-square-foot patio touts a spacious island bar and a menu of wine, sake and craft cocktails.
What Rapoport lacked in firsthand culinary knowledge he made up for by hiring Pagoda executive chef Bryan S. Emperor, whose pan-Asian travels included stints training at Michelin three-star Kikunoi Honten in Japan; opening Asian restaurants in Beijing and Washington, D.C.; and earning Esquire’s “Best Restaurants in America” nod for his Japanese eatery KALU in Charlotte, N.C.
Emperor, a Wall Street banker-turned-chef who met the restaurateur five months ago, instantly bonded with Rapoport over their shared New York upbringing.
“I guess I realized, ‘This guy must know what he’s doing because he hired me,’ ” Emperor says with a laugh. “His vision for approachable Chinese food that touches your soul, stuff that tastes like you ordered from a street market in Asia, that was perfectly in line with what I was working on. We both want to use ingredients direct from their Asian sources and apply ancient techniques, but also make it comforting to Western palates.”
That includes stir-fried garlic and anchovy string beans, a flavorful dish Rapoport first encountered at Betelhut in San Francisco, an Asian street-food eatery he describes as “unpretentious, casual, the first place I thought of to emulate.”
The décor – naturally – embraces pagoda-style architecture, balancing dark-red carpets and paper lantern-style lighting with teal murals and tufted leather banquettes.
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Pagoda Kitchen’s entrees, still being finalized, will also feature lo mein, Wagyu beef gyoza and shaved ribeye plated with blistered shishito peppers and yuzu kosho (a spicy Japanese citrus paste). Appetizers include spring rolls, bao buns, rock shrimp tempura and lettuce wraps. The restaurant will debut with dinner service, adding lunch and brunch later this fall.
“It’s a cleaner version of what you’d typically find in a Chinese takeout menu,” Rapoport explains. “We’re not using corn starches and no overly sweetened sauces.”
Pagoda Kitchen, at 14917 Lyons Road #100, in Delray Beach, will debut in October inside Delray Marketplace. Go to RapoportsRG.com.