Scott Drewno, the executive chef at The Source by Wolfgang Puck, walks into Hong Kong Palace, a restaurant tucked behind the Seven Corners Home Depot. While the rest of his party sits down, Drewno beelines for the kitchen. “What’s good here?” he asks Melanie Qing, the co-owner.
The opener works: Once he shows curiosity and skill in navigating off-menu Chinese dishes, she’s as enthusiastic as he is, suggesting chicken wrapped in paper and a slew of other entrees he says he’s never tried before.
Drewno orders 12 dishes. “Just bring ’em all at once,” he says. “I love the barrage.”
Throughout dinner, Drewno tells stories: about a New York restaurant that offers little plates so you can spit out the nails from your fried chicken feet, about the best Peking duck he’s ever had in Hong Kong, about the Asian markets he used to visit 12 years ago in Las Vegas, during his first line-cook gig at Puck’s Chinois.
At the Source, Drewno refashions Chinese dishes as fine dining. They’re decidedly more fancy than the Route 50 eats he draws inspiration from and a lot more expensive—The Source’s tasting menu is $125, or $200 with sake pairing. For that, you could just about feed four people 12 dishes at Hong Kong Palace.
Peking duck is usually served in three stages: the crispy skin with condiments, the meat served in pancakes with sides of vegetables, and the remainder made into a broth. At the Source, two plucked farm-raised ducks hang by a noose. Water and maltose boils in a cauldron. Drewno dunks the ducks for three minutes to get them ruby, but not neon, red. Then they’re stuffed with ginger, green onions, and garlic, and rubbed with 10-spice powder. After three days hanging in a walk-in refrigerator, they’re the color of an Irishman in a tanning contest—and ready for roasting.
Drewno fires up a wok large enough to stir-fry a toddler. It sounds like a jet at takeoff. “When I go home to my family I have to make these several times a visit,” says Drewno of his kung pao chicken—the crispy garlic wings on the izakayamenu in the Source’s lounge. “Despite that they’re buffalo wings fans, they can’t get enough kung pao.” The plump wings are frenched—the meat is cut away from the end of the bone—so they’re easier to eat. The line cooks hate doing this. “It’s their least favorite job,” says Drewno. He throws hot chilis, ginger, rice vinegar, rice wine, and peanuts in smoking bubbly oil, stepping away from it, since, he says, “those hot chilis will get you.” The wings blacken in 15 seconds. “You have to find a balance between the sweet, sour, salty and spicy flavors that make it so good.”
The Source’s dumplings are a riff on Hong Kong Palace’s. The originals are starchy, soupy, savory packets. Here, they’re a beauty plate. Drewno drops a dollop of scallop mousse in the center of a crimped wonton wrapper. He rests a tiger prawn in the center so it looks like it’s diving into the wrapper. Creating his dumplings are “like tying a bowtie,” he says as he spins the plate, crimping around the prawn with his thumbs. Dumplings are usually closed; during Chinese New Year their purse shape symbolizes wealth. Not here. “That’s not our clientele,” Drewno says. “We’re not that traditional.”
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