Thursday, January 3, 2013

Portland Food: Imperial


J and I decided to continue the dining-out-on-Christma-Eve tradition and went to a newish restaurant called Imperial. It is downtown in the Hotel Lucia and is the newest restaurant from award winning chef, Vitaly Paley, who also owns Paley’s Kitchen.
 

The space is large and industrial feeling with high exposed beams ceiling, old brick walls, and concrete flooring but they’ve warmed it up with plush banquettes and low lighting. The kitchen is partially open showcasing a massive wood burning grill. With the high ceilings the noise level is fairly active (meaning old folks like me may have trouble hearing—not the place for intimate conversation) but the atmosphere is a Portland blend of casual and dressy. The menu is small and seasonal with offerings changing based on what is available. To begin, J had half a dozen oysters, served with a grilled lemon and a grated horseradish and vinegar sauce. I’m not enough of an oyster fan to infringe on his enjoyment but the horseradish sauce was so tasty I ate it straight off the fork. Apparently, the oysters were outstanding as well, because J finished and said he could eat another dozen. This is just another of the benefits of living near a cold water coast- fabulous seafood. While J enjoyed his oysters I had a fresh, warm Parker House roll will sea salt butter. Simple, yes. Boring, no. For me, there are very few things that taste as good as fresh bread. It was a perfect start.

 

The entrees are varied and unusual. I was torn between a lamb dish and fried rabbit but finally switched gears and went with the spiced Oregon albacore tuna a la plancha—meaning the final sear and flavor came from being grilled on a wood plank. It was accompanied by Oregon Dungeness crab with creamed kale and topped with bits of fried onions. Bordelaise vinaigrette circled the plate. Sounds like a lot of flavors, but in the right hands, which these were, it was amazing. The sweetness of the crab against the cream and slight bite of kale was so good I could have had that alone as my entrée. The tuna was gorgeous with a clean but slightly smoky flavor and the bordelaise, about which I was uncertain because I think of it as a meat sauce, played beautifully with the shallots adding almost an herbal flavor. One of the best entrees I’ve had all year.
 


 
J's black cod a la plancha served atop lentils with an aioli sauce and pea shoots.

 
Of course, I seldom leave without dessert. This was a perfect ending to a sumptuous meal. Gingerbread covered with a sticky (but not too sticky) toffee, served with baked pears, candied pecans and a caramel pudding. Again, the mélange of tastes—soft sweet pears, molasses rich gingerbread, the tang of crème fraiche and crunch of pecans made each bite a marvel. I may or may not have stabbed J with my fork when he tried to try a piece.
 
 

 
Despite a very nasty woman next to us who felt compelled to tell me to quit taking pictures of my food because “it’s so yesterday and no one cares” this was a lovely night. Imperial opened this fall and has had mixed reviews but I found the food and wait staff to be top notch. This is a restaurant we'll return to.
 
 

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