310 Colorado St. (Austin, 78701)
We’d been hearing good things about Imperia for quite a while, so we thought they were a good choice for the first SDC of 2014.
It lived up to the hype.
Imperia serves up pan-Asian fusion cuisine that draws equally from Chinese, Japanese and Thai cuisines (and probably a few others as well) in an attractive, understated space in the warehouse district (or what used to be called the warehouse district; they keep changing names and I don’t think there are any warehouses left). There’s a bar, but it doesn’t seem overemphasized the way it does in other downtown establishments.
We started off with the pork belly steamed buns, which were delicious but definitely smaller than the steamed buns you get at the average dim sum restaurant. The calamari was very good, with a nicely light batter, but not enough to eclipse perennial champion The Clay Pit. For sushi, we picked something that stretched the definition:”The Hot Mess,” which the menu described as “Snow crab and shrimp atop a honey and avocado roll. Topped with Dynomite [sic] sauce and Kochijyan butter,” to which I can only add “what they said.” The individual portions were very tasty and came out in an escargot dish. (I also had two pieces of unagi, which were fine but undersized.)
For my entree I had “Kinoko to Suteki,” which is a very savory steak and mushroom dish; the portions could have been a bit bigger, but it was in-line with downtown Asian fusion expectations. I also like the portion of Pad-Thai Dwight and I spilt.
I can’t find an online listing for the dessert I had, which involved creme brulee, ice cream, caramel sauce and decadence. Service was pretty attentive.
We ended up getting several entrees and appetizers, so the bill was substantial: more than $150 for three people including tax and tip. You’d be hard-pressed to get an appetizer, meal and drink for under $20, but you could probably do it for around $30. Just keep in mind that you’re not paying for Chinese food, you’re paying for a downtown Asian fusion restaurant, and adjust your expectations accordingly. (The biggest difference between Imperia and the late, unlamented Austin location of Roy’s is value. Though we ended up spending about as much at both places, we didn’t feel like we were being ripped off, and we didn’t leave still hungry.)
Besides price, the biggest problem with Imperia is their location in the warehouse district downtown. Unless you want to use the valet parking, there’s a good chance you’ll have to park several blocks away (I found a metered space on Republic Square). But Imperia is well worth the hassle, either for special occasions or if you already live downtown.
(This review will also appear on The Logbook of the Saturday Dining Conspiracy.)