Austin, TX 78701
When Imperia first opened in Austin several years ago, the idea was to morph the Vegas and New York dining experiences of the famous Tao restaurants into an Austin version loosely described as “vibe dining” (where revelry and great food created its own scene). I’m not totally sure if the vibe dining part has worked as well as they wanted it to (Austin, after all, is not Vegas) but you cannot fault the quality or imagination of the Pan Asian food at this tastefully designed restaurant at 4th and Colorado.
Under the watchful eye of Tatsu-san, a master of all culinary innovations with an Asian twist, Imperia has continued to measure up as an upscale dining destination. I always begin with the exceptionally mellow Edamame Potstickers which have a taste appeal that’s highly unique. I initially didn’t think the edamame would work in this manner: man was I wrong! The Firecracker Shrimp is another dish that is always fun and tasty. It has stood the test since this place opened and I can find not fault with them. Likewise with the Sea Bass Skewers. They are tender and possess a really nice and pleasant flavor. The texture has always been spot on as well. The Pork and Asian Pear Shiu Mai is another nicely designed appetizer. Some find this dish too sweet with the soy sherry sauce but I think it has stellar taste.
The entrees have always been rock solid at Imperia. And my favorite has been and continues to be the Dragon Rib. The Yuzu frizzled onions complete what is an exquisite taste experience. No knife necessary in this texturally complete dish. Equally good is the Miso Laquered Chilean Sea Bass. This is the ultimate compliment to the notion of the smoothest Butterfish. I’ve had it several times and it always delivers. The wok tossed bok choy is a nice touch as well. Another favorite is the Sichuan Salt and Pepper Shrimp. The blend of tahi chiles and crispy garlic light up the flavor profiles but not to the point of excess.
The appeal of Imperia also lies in its Sushi bar where Tatsu Aikawa first started working his magic. They have a great Happy Hour 2-1 deal at Imperia and this is a good way to get to know the menu. The Pablo Escolar not only has a cute name but if you can envision tender escolar, roasted Japanese eggplant, cucumber and avocado and a spicy vinaigrette, well, I’ll say no more. Another recommendation is Red Devil Roll. The marinated tuna with black sushi rice and roasted bell peppers topped with Tatsu’s spicy mayo still gets my attention. Then there’s the Hot Mess, a name which seems to give the local food blogging community fits, but it really works for me. What’s not to like about snow crab, lobster and shrimp baked and served over a honey avocado roll?
Imperia may not have the uber cachet it once did, but that’s not unique in the trendy Warehouse area. My advice: enjoy it! It’s still a really cool dining destination.