Wednesday, January 6, 2016


Vitaly Paley's three year old Imperial was as busy as any buzzy-new bum-rushed hotspot.  Granted, it was Christmas Eve, and 50% of Portland's Best chefs are probably hunkering down with candy canes, but still, the boisterousness was notable.  This just all added to the festivity, however- plus, noisiness in restaurants these days is
 just pretty much inevitable.  This wasn't ameliorated at all by exposed cement ceilings and hardwood everything, but they are striking: raw, industrial pipes snake across the ceiling; gorgeous, weighty chandeliers pulling from them are sculpted from graphite bike chains- they are signature Portland.  Our chef, however, is a native Texan.   Doug Adams stands at just 5'1", but what he lacks in height he makes up for in flavor.

The food is inspired by campfires of the Pacific Northwest, and the effects of this are hallmark throughout the menu.  An open kitchen, emanating heat and light from the vigorous fire of the stoves create a side dish of fire roasted mushrooms emerged from the kitchen such that the smokiness was on the brink of overpowering their own flavor were the mushrooms not flavorful enough on their own,  enriched with bone marrow and perfectly elicits a memory of bonfires at Cannon Beach: a salty, briny, musky recollection.

They are a good indication for most of the food here, which is so intensely flavorful that sometimes dishes fight with each other.  But individual plates are expertly composed, the best of which may have been a pan-roasted cauliflower bedded in hummus and adorned with crispy, incinerated brussels sprouts.  Juicy chunks of orange lighten the richness and a bolt of harissa enlivens the party.  But this dish, so
 profoundly seasoned, was hard to pair with anything else.  It was also hard to stop eating, so much so that we ordered another for the table, and frankly I could've been happy with just that dish to eat alone.  But then I would've missed a wonderful kale salad salad
 dressed in thinned goat cheese, wrangled with thin ribbons of raw carrot and a crunchy, sweet brittle of sunflower seeds, and a fresh, zingy pear salad zipped with fish sauce and ginger.  But making these things make sense with one
 another, let alone entrees, was less intuitive.    A pureed carrot soup played more obediently as a component to a meal, while retaining its own smooth, earthy-sweet personality.

That soup paired particularly well with a seared Tasmanian sea trout, decadently scented with truffles atop a slick of hollandaise.  Less cooperative was a the black cod, a fish that doesn't shine cooked a la plancha as it was here, too oily for the griddle.  The sauce gribiche served aside just compounded this effect, while a leaner fish like halibut or sturgeon would've created a stellar dish. A Brandt beef flatiron was flying solo on the plate aside from a kick
of chili-ginger sesame marinade, so a side of Fry Basket of Fries was smart to add on, crunchy McD's-esque batons with their own version of secret sauce.
Likewise, a special porchetta was served unadorned with a dollop of truffled polenta, but it took up so much of the plate there wasn't actually room for anything else.  This behemoth slab of pork could easily serve three.  A big eater at the table just barely made a dent in it, although the polenta got cleaned up: it was delightfully nubby and intensely corny with a distinct aroma of truffle, flecks of which stood out from the golden porridge.  It was a needlessly huge portion, though, if expertly done.  An Imperial sized dish, to be sure.

With all of that, there was hardly appetite left for dessert, but it was Christmas Eve!  Indulgence is the norm!  And plus, the menu specifically stated "Save Room for Pie", and although we didn't order the cranberry-apple pie-of-the-day, our  Gingerbread Chocolate Roulade was equally festive, with Meyer-orange curd, espresso
 chocolate sauce and fruit cake ice cream the was almost literally the cherry on top.   Even aside from the perishable quality of ice cream, you wouldn't give any of this fruit cake away.  Normally I shy from chocolate desserts, but the fudgy swirl connecting all the elements of this dessert did its  job with a fine flair. 

The only dish I would rush back to Imperial for is the roasted cauliflower, but so many places are doing versions of this I probably prefer exploring another chef's take... although Imperial's set a high bar.  A high bar across the board, with food perhaps more suited to celebrate the bar and its wide selection of craft cocktails,"no proof" (read: virgin) tipples, unique ciders and reasonably priced wine.  That said, I'd go back to Imperial just for eating at Imperial.  A good tactic here is just to order a simple dish for every more complex one, which is a strange recommendation when the point of a restaurant is to sell as much food as possible.  Then again, you'll have to keep coming back to make sure you haven't missed anything.

Phone: 503.228.7222
Address: 410 SW Broadway

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