The Imperial

Image: Behind the bar

Last Updated: 7/25/2021

Current Status: The Imperial is doing sit-down dining inside and on the rooftop patio.

Gift Cards

Before Times Review:

Last Visit: December 2019

The Imperial is a bright beacon at the intersection of Florida, 18th and U, at the bottom of the Adams Morgan hill.  The light pours out of big windows that look in on a sparkling dining room and bar.  There are a convoluted set of rules and restrictions, but it is worth the effort (and a walk out of the way) to spend some time here.

First the rules and format, as best as I can understand them.  Reservations are made for both the tables and bar in the main dining room. And no standing is permitted in that space.  This can be annoying if you are walking by and see open seats that the bar and think, “Hey, great, let’s snag a spot,” because there is a good chance that the open seats are actually reserved.  There is an adjoining bar area down a few steps where you can stand, with full dinner and drink options, but limited seating and only a narrow ledge if you are standing.  You could see if there is an open spot at Dram & Grain, the subterranean, edgy cocktail bar that moved over from Jack Rose.  But that too can require reservations or a wait, and only has a sampling of the upstairs menu.  Finally, there is a rooftop bar that may be more relaxed about all of this, once weather permits. Which is a long way of saying, despite what you see, not all seats that are open are available and some planning may be required for busy nights.

With those preliminaries taken care of, let us move to the more enjoyable aspects of The Imperial.  The starting point is cocktails.  There are a range of proof options, including some that are toned-down enough to accompany dinner and not knock you out after two.  There are also some zero-proof options (a positive recent trend in bars).  Considering that this is from the Jack Rose team, the thoughtfulness of the program under Andy Bixby is not surprising.  From there, it is on to wine.  Morgan Kirchner is the sommelier, and she has assembled an eclectic list that can reward exploration and experimentation.  There are a few whites, reds and a sparkling by the glass (the by-the-glass options have increased since opening). The bottle list is (from memory) a little over a dozen whites and more reds.  They are organized by style and range in price from under $50 to well over $150.

With beverages settled, next comes the food.  Chef Russell Jones, also of Jack Rose, has decided to go shared plates portions.  The food is Mid-Atlantic (he is from South Carolina) via Provence.  There are crudo, onion tarts, and a steelhead vol-au-vent.  The surprise may be a bright, crunchy, creamy cauliflower and kale salad with a smear of curry sauce as dressing.  There are also three pasta dishes.  The gnocchi dish was a butternut squash puree underneath soft gnocchi, with fried sage, hazelnut and vincotto.  It is a variation of a classic that is a little surprising and very comforting.  Among the meat dishes, Beef Wellington makes a comeback with a truffle jus.  Not every dish hits the bullseye, though they all seem to land well. The rabbit dish with creamy beans needed something to make it pop, though it was satisfying on a cold night. There are also raw bar options and a couple large-format dishes for sharing family-style.  For dessert, there are a handful of choices including a cheese plate.  The pistachio crème brûlée felt more like a mousse than a crème, but the worked nonetheless.

Service seemed to be past opening jitters.  Though, having the bartenders responsible for cocktails for the entire floor and serving the diners at the bar can stretch them thin.  Despite the obstacles to securing a spot at the bar, the “no-standing” policy does create a more hospitable environment once seated.  Something Astoria also figured out.

Other Guidance: It is a nice place, don’t dress like a schlub, but you can get away with pretty casual. There are GF options and a handful of vegetable dishes, though meat and seafood are predominant elements.

Rating: Worth Taking a Walk
Cuisine: Old and New American
Neighborhood: Adams Morgan
Address: 2001 18th St NW, Washington, DC 20009
Reservations: Resy (Note: Even bar seats in the dining room are reserved).

Other Critics/Voices:

Washington Post: Tom gives it a positive 2.5 stars.  He was also generous in his first take.

Washingtonian: #77 in 2020 Top 100; Preview

Thrillist – piece on the foraging of rare spirits.