What’s the best thing in the world for a just out of college, cost-conscious foodie? An invitation to a fancy restaurant from a grown ass adult.
Last week, an aunt treated my cousin and I to a great dinner at Empire, a fancy Asian fusion restaurant in the seaport. Ka-ching.
It’s one of the more overwhelming places I’ve ever been. The restaurant’s google description pretty accurately reads “Old-world China meets sleek modernity at this trendy clublike complex with multiple dining rooms.” Empire could probably hold like 500 people – more than once, I got lost going to the bathroom, ducking in and out of side rooms with expensive liquor collections and elaborate Asian mural paintings. Trance music thumps from the walls and ceilings, which all glow with rotating, clubby colors.
Essentially, this place is very fun. And the food would have stood out on its own – a quick glance at the tables next to us helped us navigate the restaurant’s monstrously large portions. I had leftovers for a few days. They remained delicious too, which isn’t always the case at fancy restaurants. Totally recommend this place – here’s what I ate.
First bite: Dumplings (first photo), Pot Stickers (second), and scallion pancakes
We got in a debate about the relative value of pot stickers (pan-fried) and dumplings (steam-cooked), so naturally, we decided to order both. Empire crushed it – I preferred the pot stickers, which were filled with pork and caramelized shallots and served with an absolutely fire chili garlic sauce. The dumplings didn’t disappoint either, offering a bit more dough and a yummy chicken and soy filling.
Who doesn’t like scallion pancakes? They’ve never been bad, but these were damn good. They were delicate and flaky but firm enough to scoop Empire’s crazy selection of dipping sauces. All of them were excellent – sesame dressing, sriracha sour cream (hell yeah), and my favorite, a rich edamame hummus. People have gone to war for less.
Best bite: Broiled Atlantic Salmon with Cilantro Lime Sauce, Spinach Noodles and Seasonal Veggies – Unfortunately, I didn’t snag a photo.
This ranks amongst the best salmon dishes I’ve ever had. The cilantro-lime glaze wasn’t even visible, but it brought out all the richness in the salmon and added a nice, tangy sweetness. The fish was excellently cooked, crispy and firm only on the very outside of the skin, pull-apart soft in the middle. The veggie (bok choy, long-sliced onions, cabbage) and spinach noodle accompaniments offered a really warm, earthy contrast. Exceptional.
Sashimi Sushi Roll – Tuna, salmon, Hamachi, lettuce, citrus soy, and Vietnamese rice paper
Outstanding sushi. The tuna, salmon and Hamachi all lent their unique flavors to this inventive roll, which didn’t have any rice but held together flawlessly thanks to some sticky Vietnamese rice paper and some great kitchen prep. It was the lightest dish thing on our table, a flavorful palate cleanser for the overwhelming dishes that surrounded it.
Garlic spinach with fried shallots
“Good call – the spinach is bomb.” Our waiter was visibly pleased when I ordered this dish, and I was visibly pleased when I mowed through it. Nothing complicated, according to the waiter – just sautéed spinach, garlic, and shallots – but still his favorite thing on the menu. I’ve tried to make the same thing myself about five times since and haven’t come remotely close.
Steak + French Fries
Empire crushes American classics too. I didn’t try the steak – I’m out on beef for the moment – but these fries were great – long-cut and thin and well-salted. They didn’t come with ketchup but rather a killer truffle miso aioli.
Tl:dr: Exceptional Asian fusion dishes, worth every penny for family-size portions. Empire is bonkers and very fun.