I had heard very good things about Imperial No. Nine, in the Mondrian Soho (9 Crosby Street between Grand St. and Howard St.) It received immediate notoriety because it is the latest restaurant to open under Sam Talbot, the season 2, third place finisher on Top Chef. (And as any long time reader knows, we are Top Chef whores). I have been meaning to go since I first read about it opening in March, but somehow life just got in the way.
I arrived and was a bit blinded by some crazy Mercedes photo shoot that was happening for Fashion Week right outside. I managed to walk by the place 3 times. If you go here… look for the vine covered, trellised entry!
The inside is hard to describe, but I can say one thing… it looks “rich.” New money rich. But not in a tacky way.
I will apologize in advance, as these pictures were taken in much too dark lighting. It was super trendy with its minimal lighting, but I always selfishly prefer it brighter (simply for camera purposes). I never want to use my flash if I can help it.
Imperial No. Nine is mostly small plates. Luckily, I was dining with some supremo sharers.
We started with some items from the raw bar. 2 types of oysters (East and West Coast), clams, and shrimp. All were very good but these may have been the best oysters I have ever had. Fresh, plump, filled with flavor. So good.
These came with multiple dipping sauces. Frankly, I didn’t try any because I didn’t know what had peppers… but more importantly, why mask any bit of that amazing flavor with sauce? Really now.
We also tried a Chilled Pea Leaf salad with blond red wine vinaigrette. It was tasty, but I’m really not sure what made this salad $12s worth of special. It reminded me of the delicious yet common salad that is thrown on the side of eggs benedict at nice brunch restaurants.
We then tried the cauliflower fritters. These were so good that we wound up ordering a second batch. They were just perfect in texture and flavor. A MUST try if you go.
We then tried the crisp Berkshire Pork Belly with pickled cherries and green lentils. This was delicious, but surprisingly overshadowed by the rest of the meal. I think it had a bit too much heaviness to it and not enough crispness to really shine through. But that is being very nit-picky. I think the rest of what we ordered was just that much better.
We also tried the scallops, which was easily the favorite dish of many at the table. They were seared over summer corn, heirloom tomatoes, and romano beans. I remember no tomatoes, but I remember loving it. The scallops were cooked perfectly and the corn and sauce it came on was just sensationally delicious.
We also tried the duckfat roasted peanut potatoes with shallot confit, cured lemon, and sea salt. These were pretty good but could have used a bit more flavor.
We heard that the cous cous was good so we decided to try that. It came with crab, asparagus, roasted mushrooms and a slow cooked egg. It all blended together very well and had great, interesting texture and flavor throughout. Usually I prefer my crab more highlighted, but I couldn’t argue with this flavor combination. Spot on.
We ordered the heirloom blue corn grits with shrimp and a slow poached egg. It also came with NY State Maple Jus and Aged Cheddar. Holy cow! I usually absolutely hate shrimp and grits. The grits are always all wrong to me. But this… this was a masterpiece. I could not believe how much I enjoyed this dish.
We also heard great things about the King Crab a la Pancha, which came with sweet and sour butter and crispy garlic. I have no idea what sweet and sour butter is, but I can tell you that this had a very Asian flavor. I really enjoyed it, but some of my other diners found that the sauce overpowered the crab flavor.
And what is a meal without red meat? I was really happy we ordered the steak, which was listed as Beef Culotte a la Plancha with greens, dashi, and white soy. (This was my second run in with “a la plancha” during this blog post so I decided to figure out what it means… grilled on a metal plate…. interesting). I THINK this was topped with very finely sliced, crispy onions, but at this point in the meal (and let’s face it… the wine), I cannot be 100% clear on anything. All I can tell you is that this was absolutely fantastic. Probably one of the best pieces of meat I have ever tried. Filled with flavor, perfectly sauced and complimented with those crispy things. Delicious.
I’m still not sure how we managed to fit it, but we had to try dessert while we were there!
First up was the Banana Bread Pudding with maple bourbon sauce, honeycomb semi fredo, and nutella. I liked this dish, but the flavors didn’t really stand out for me.
We also tried the caramel corn, which was salted caramel ice cream with sweet popcorn powder. I could not get enough of this. Perfectly sweet, salty, crunchy, and cold. Awesome.
We also tried the seasonal stone fruit with almond crunch polenta cake, and corn ricotta sorbet. I would describe this more as delicious fresh peaches and plums with croutons, sweet corn, and a corn sorbet. If someone told me they were serving me a dessert with croutons and corn, I would have looked at them funny. But this somehow worked. It was delicious and very seasonal, though I’m not sure I would go out of my way to order it again. I
Last but not least, we tried the German Chocolate Whoopie Pie. This came with spicy milk chocolate, young coconut sorbet, and passion fruit. This was very good, except the deconstruction made it a bit hard to really get the flavors of German Chocolate Cake (which is what I think they were going for). It came together well, but I think part of me was expecting that gooey coconut thing that German Chocolate Cake does so well.
Every one of us that walked out of this meal could not stop talking about how good it was. Weeks later, Mike and I are still reminiscing about it. Fantastic flavor combinations I have not seen before coupled with great cooking and fresh ingredients really makes this place stand out. I highly recommend it for a nice meal.
Total Nom Points: 8 out of 10