South county restaurateur Burt Rapoport is going to great lengths to satisfy a craving. Then again, it’s a recurring craving many locals share, one for homey, unpretentious Chinese food, the kind folks in cities like San Francisco and New York might find at go-to neighborhood spots.
Rapoport is opening a Chinese restaurant in suburban Delray Beach.
“I’m a Chinese food fan — well, me along with everyone else. And you know it’s hard to find a good Chinese restaurant in our area,” says Rapoport, who has hired a veteran executive chef with extensive experience in Chinese and Japanese cuisines.
Chinese restaurant Pagoda Kitchen to open at Delray Marketplace
Rapoport hopes to open the new restaurant, Pagoda Kitchen, sometime in October. It will take over the former Apeiro space at the Delray Marketplace.
Rapoport knows the plaza well — his restaurant group owns the popular Burt and Max’s there. The Pagoda space is familiar as well. It’s where Rapoport opened Apeiro Kitchen and Bar in early 2015. He sold it some three years later and it closed last year.
Rapoport says the time feels right for this new restaurant.
“I’ve been thinking of doing it for quite some time. Business has picked up and I said, ‘It could be the right time if I could find the right chef to do it with me,’” he says.
He believes he found the right hire when he interviewed chef Bryan Emperor, who most recently served as an executive chef in Las Vegas at the Wynn hotel’s Japanese restaurant Mizumi, which earned four stars from the Forbes Travel Guide. A New York native, Emperor left a career in finance years ago to explore his passion for East Asian cooking and culinary traditions.
“He’s very knowledgeable in Chinese and Japanese food and culture,” says Rapoport. “I flew him down and we spent four days together. I felt he could fit into our culture.”
Emperor’s resume, which reflects his East Asian travels and kitchen work, was impressive: Early apprenticeships in Tokyo led the Culinary Institute of America grad to a line-cook position at Nobu in New York and later to the kitchens of star chefs Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Gray Kunz. A Shanghai restaurateur later recruited him to open a Japanese restaurant in Beijing.
While at the now-closed Kalu Asian Kitchen in Charlotte, NC, Emperor was voted Food & Wine’s Best New Chef in the Southeast in the magazine’s 2011 people’s choice competition. Kalu also was selected one of the top restaurants in the country by Esquire magazine.
More recently, while Emperor led the kitchen at O-Ku Japanese restaurant in Washington D.C. in 2018, the restaurant earned a positive review from The Washington Post for the robata-grilled meats and dishes that reflected the chef’s East Asian travels.
What to expect from Pagoda Kitchen’s restaurant menu
At Pagoda Kitchen, he’ll bring his range of experiences to a menu that includes classics like Peking duck, glazed Chinese-style spare ribs and Mongolian dumplings. For select meat dishes, Emperor will make use of the restaurant’s centerpiece vertical rotisserie grill.
Pagoda will add a new Asian-inspired layer to a restaurant group that’s rooted in more traditional American concepts (Burt and Max’s and Deck 84 in Delray Beach and Max’s Grille in Boca Raton) and includes an Italian-American concept (Prezzo in Boca Raton).
Pagoda Kitchen: Expected to open in October at the Delray Marketplace, 14917 Lyons Rd, #100, Delray Beach, PagodaKitchen.com. The restaurant will be dinner-only at first but there are plans to offer daily lunch and weekend brunch service later.