I just dined at Imperia for the first time on a Tuesday night, after giving it some time after its soft opening. Here is my take on this restaurant's Asian-fusion cuisine, drinks, and service.
We sampled an array of dim sum, starters, and entrees, including the specialty, Peking Duck. Overall, we felt that the dishes were plated well, but most of them had a heavy or sweet (often both) sauce or drizzle that often masked the natural flavors of the food. To me, this is a travesty, as one’s conception of any Asian fusion should showcase the main ingredient and not have them covered by sauces. The food was heavy, as opposed to clean and light. Take for example the cuisine at Tao in Las Vegas and New York, or even Uchi here in Austin. The fusions accentuate the natural flavors of the main ingredients. A true fusion is not throwing “Asian-esque” food on the plate and slapping on “Asian-sounding” thick, sweet sauces for flavor.
We were quite disappointed by the Yuzu-crusted Oysters and News Years Day Steamers, both of which were fried and topped with thick, sweet sauces. Even the wasabi-infused mashers lacked any hint of wasabi aromas or flavors, being overpowered by the sweet, thick, heavy dynamite sauce drenching the dish. Even the seemingly simply Seabass Kushiyaki Skewers we tasted were brushed with a sweet glaze.
Even the most mainstream of dishes, Tuna Tataki, was flawed. The preparation entails the tuna to be placed upon a bed of micogreens and edamame. To our surprise, the edamame was still shelled! This seemed to be a mistake, as anyone who eats Japanese cuisine, knows that edamame needs to be de-shelled before tossing it into any dish. The shells are fibrous, tough, and inedible. The caveat is if you eat edamame alone with sea salt and have the chance to toss the shells aside after removing the soy beans to eat. We informed our waitress of this error, to which she immediately acknowledged as being an error. She went to inform the manager and attempted to have it taken off our bill. However, a few minutes later, she reported that her manager stated the edamame were supposed to be tossed into the microgreens whole, in their shells. This makes absolutely no sense! Again, the shells of the edamame are tough, fibrous and inedible. Are diners supposed to chew the shells as they eat the microgreens and tuna? Or are they supposed to spit out the entire mess after chewing on the fibrous edamame shells for minutes with the greens and tuna? Or are they supposed to fish through the greens and tuna to pick out the edamame, and eat them all separately?
The one dish that was prepared and presented well was the Peking Duck. The skin was crisp and the duck moist and tender, without being overly fatty or dry, which happens often in poorly prepared duck. The one misgiving with this dish was that the thin pancake wraps fell apart from the steamer container. They were folded into quarters in the steamer container, and each wrap broke off into 4 pieces when you unfolded them. This made it very difficult to eat the duck in a traditional way, as it was nearly impossible to wrap the duck, scallions, cucumber and hoisin sauce on a quarter piece of wrap without it falling apart.
The “candied cuisine” was worsened by the specialty martinis, most of which were also sweet in nature. I had the Jade Martini, which is one of the less sweet martinis given the ingredients, but even the simple mix of vodka and Green Tea Liqueur tasted syrupy. I had to resort to Hendricks and tonic to counteract all the sweetness of the food. This was a shame.
Service and Ambience
The ambience is quite exquisite, from the black crystal chandeliers to the fish-scaled texture half wall near the bar. Our service was excellent and our server, Ashley, seemed to be quite knowledgeable not only about the dishes, but about the cooking and food preparation process. This was quite impressive. She also made extra efforts to inform the manager about our comments. Unfortunately, it appeared as if our waitress was much more informed of our cuisine and its proper preparation than the restaurant manager, who ended up charging up for the poorly prepared tuna tataki dish with edamame shells.
Honestly, I think that Imperia is an overpriced, over-hyped, PF Changs kind of place.
It isn't bad, but isn't really worth what you pay for in the least bit.
The restaurant itself is beautiful and I'm sure they pay a premium for leasing that location, but if I had a choice, I would much rather be at Uchi for Asian fusion or Dinh Ho for authentic Asian food.
My friend and I dined at Imperia whilst evacuating New Orleans during Hurrican Gustav. Damon, our server, was thoroughly knowledable about the food, sake, and specialty cocktails. We asked many questions as we tried to make up our minds and he steared us toward the Miso Lacquered Chilean Sea Bass (something new to us) and the Losbster and Shrimp Pad Thai (something we're familiar with minus the lobster). The sea bass was exquisite and quite a departure - the pad thai wonderful with lots of large lumps of lobster. We chose the buttery edamame poststickers with wasabi viniagrette and chicken dumplings in shittake mushroom broth. The potstickers were so awesome! I'd skip the dumplings for something else but I'll certainly go back to Imperia when in Austin.
Last night I experienced Imperia for the first time. I loved the location, Colorado Street is very fun to be on at night. The decor of Imperia is neat, but quite dark. We ordered Honey Sesame Shrimp with candied almonds, which was a special, Black Angus Ribeye Roll, and Sugar Cane Duck Kabobs. The food was okay... the shrimp tasted pretty good, as did the ribeye roll, but the duck kabobs had an odd flavor to it, probably an Asian herb, and didn't have very good texture. The presentation was nice, the service very fast, however, we sat down at around 8:10 and the place didn't fill up until about 9:00. If I'm in the mood for Asian-fusion food, uchi is a much better option, in fact it is my favorite restaurant. Overall, I would rate Imperia a 6 out of 10.