By the time I made it through the tough reservation process, tonight's harsh winds, and the confusing location to L'Impero I feared it could only be a letdown. Surprisingly I found the food to be supremely delicious. The soft candle lit and gauzey surfaces(sounds like a lethal combination) made for a warm ambience despite the lack of heat due to a malfunctioning boiler.
The very opinionated and cheerful waiter, who was irritatingly aware of the great press and hype they've received, tried to lead us down a course of favorite menu items of both himself and the chef's but we chose to go our own way. Three of us got the four course prix fixe. which is a great value.
Starters included a wonderfully earthy dish of short ribs over a flavorful disc of farro risotto. The polenta served with a copper pot of mushroom fricasee was the perfect cozy dish on such a frigid night. I chose the Quail which was served flattened with an incredibly well charred skin and a peppery bite. Tiny halved grapes, microgreens, walnuts, and pancetta provided a well balanced accompaniment to the bird.
The duck and foie gras agnolotti was a much better choice for a pasta course than my sepi noodles with octopus, mussels, and sea urchin. The fish were tiny little pieces that didn't pack much flavor and the whole thing felt a bit sloppy.
I had the capretto for my main course and it was very supple and served a buttery pile of tiny potato cubes. Dry-aged sirloin was suprisingly tender despite my father's orders to make sure it was well done. The accompanying tripe ala parmigiana was silky and studded with baby white beans. Both the cod and branzino dishes were prepared with careful and equal attention to flavor and presentation.
Desserts were much better than early reports have mentioned. The bittersweet chocolate soup will send any chocoholic in your life into convulsions of pleasure. The freshly made vanilla risotto filled zepole were served with a not too sweet zabaglione gelato with a very full flavor brought out from the liquer. My trio of cheeses came with three lardy pepperonata biscuits that provided a nice counterpoint to the sweet reductions that increased the complexity of the semi-boring cheeses. Unusally the decaf press coffee had a much more intense flavor than the regular. Petit-fours that included chocolate salami slices, gilded the lily a bit after such a generously portioned, four course meal but I relished every last one of them anyway.