L'Impero, I know most will disagree...
I went to L'Impero for the first time for restaurant week. We had a waitress who was clearly new and was quite overwhelmed but I've seen that before during restaurant week. Who cares? If I had a place I would train new waitstaff during RW too.
Anyway, I wasn't blown away by the food. I found everything to be executed almost flawlessly (shortrib braised exactly right, barley cooked so it retained just a tiny bit of bite, authentic pasta) but the flavors just didn't wow me. It seemed to be very "safe" if that makes any sense. I try to eat at Babbo when I'm ready to splurge on high end Italian and I find those flavors bold. I thought L'Impero seemed a little afraid to be bold with its flavors. I'd love to see what Scott Conant could do with some deliciously rich game, smelly cheeses, or even hot pepper. Maybe the regular menu is different but at this point I'd be much more likely to eat at the bar at Babbo. My fiancee who lived in Italy for quite some time thought the Spaghetti with Tomato was almost exactly like the pasta in Rome but it's still one of the most basic of pasta dishes. I don't want complicated, just a little more excitement.
I was there for the 1st time last week and was not impressed with the food. The bar is nice, the wine list fine (actually, we had very reasonably priced glasses at the bar and a very well priced bottle at the table -- strong point), the service very friendly and efficient and the food, in my opinion, only okay. Nothing was bad but nothing was memorable either. And, given the price point, it should have some standouts. This, in sharp contrast to my meal the next night at al di la in Brooklyn where, for 1/3 the cost, we had a great meal. I can think of a # of Manhattan Italian restaurants that I like better. I was disappointed, as I wanted to like it.
We were there a few days ago and thought the food was very good, especially considering the prix fix $65. The food wasn't avant garde, but that's not L'Impero's reputation, so nothing missed. I had the short rib and the sea bass and everything was solid. There were no "wow" experience, but then we did not have a "wow" experience at the highly regarded Babbo either. It was our 2nd time there and we would definitely go back.
We've been to L'Impero once, and I have to say I agree with syoung. While I consider the Italian food served there modern rather than traditional, I don't think Scott Conant intends for it to be to overly bold or ultra-unusual. I thought the dishes we had were excellent overall, and I was particularly bowled over by the polenta and wild mushrooms. For me -- and for my husband as well -- that was a "Wow!" experience. It still makes me drool when I think about it. And, btw, I can't recall any Hound who has commented on that dish not having that same reaction.
In the end, as with all things culinary, it comes down to "chacun a son gout."