Last Sunday I went to Imperia in downtown Austin. It wasn't my choice, I went there for a meeting, but boy am I glad I did! First off, it's on Colorado Street, which is, along with all the surrounding area, under construction. This made both getting there AND finding parking a little more challenging than I would prefer. That being said, they have valet if you want to drop the cash for it. I was lucky enough to find a spot right around the corner. (Also, it bears mentioning that I parallel parked like a champ!)
The inside is cool and dark, which was welcome on a sweltering Texas evening. The entryway vestibule is one of those waterfalls where the water softly cascades flat over the surface of the wall. (Yes, I touched it to see if it was real water. Yes my mother raised me better than that. No, I am not ashamed of my behavior because it was KEWL!) The dining area is rather large, with several seating areas, three tatami tables, the obligatory sushi counter and an impressive bar. We sat at one of those raised tables with stools (which I find uncomfortable, and thus usually decline); but we were a rather large party and they were very accommodating about giving us our own space and joining two tables together to ensure we had enough room.
The restaurant fancies itself a bit "swank" as evidenced by the hostess's laisse faire attitude and the chill surroundings. The wait staff is also uber-attentive. In restaurant parlance this means EXPENSIVE; but when it comes to food, you usually get what you pay for, so you really can't complain. Bastion continued to amuse me throughout the evening with his quips, while simultaneously taking good care of us. He kept everyone's water filled and even poured sake for those that ordered it, lest we be taxed by having to lift the tokkuri and pour into the choko ourselves.
I ordered a crab rangoon appetizer. It was tasty, but at $10 I would skip it next time as I can get the exact same thing at any Chinese take out place for a third of the price. I didn't mind much, because what I was really looking forward to was the sushi! (Oh sorry what? meeting? agenda? Did we have stuff to discuss? Whatevs.) Bastion was very hands on when we ordered and flat out told us which items were his favorites and which items to avoid. One particular specialty roll he described as "not so much" and followed it up with, "I warned you, if you order it anyway and hate it, I am not taking it off the bill." All this with the appropriate attitude and neck swerve. I swear this guy was straight out of Manhattan, but no, he's a Texas boy with a New York 'tude.
I ordered the "4138" and a spicy tuna roll. The 4138 is tempura shrimp and avocado topped with salmon sashimi, and the best part, a spicy peanut sauce with crushed peanuts. It was HEAVENLY. I thought the peanut sauce would make the whole thing taste like a satay, but noooo, it was the perfect complement. The tuna roll was also delish, and artfully presented with chive fronds. Their pickeled ginger was white instead of dyed pink, and I was also immensely impressed that when i asked for "fresh" wasabi (as opposed to that green putty), Bastion not only knew what I was talking about, but they had it!
I decided to take a gander at the dessert menu. I was expecting some azuki bean paste wrapped ice cream or maybe some lychee nuts. The tempura fried ice cream tempted me, but again Bastion was there to advise. He first asked if we wanted just a little something sweet to end the meal or a "dessert experience". DUH. And so, we ordered a half baked chocolate chip cookie with ice cream on top. When it arrived, it was not just a cookie, it was a COOKIE!! And yes, it was an experience. Let's just say I was glad he brought multiple spoons.
When the bill came, I was leaning over to grab my purse. Damn high tables, I could not reach it and I hate climbing in and out of those stools. One of the sushi chefs was walking by, and he grabbed my purse and handed it to me - top notch service all the way. The bottom line is the food is amazing, the ambiance fantastic and the service beyond reproach. The prices are a little steep, but not out of this world. They have specials and, personally, I used a Groupon, so it can be done reasonably. If you like sushi, then you really should check it out!