July 25, 2017


Continuing our survey of Tudor City restaurants, today's subject is L'Impero, the enclave's first destination restaurant. Here is its story, in bullet points.

Chef Scott Conant and co-owner Chris Cannon. The Vespa
(permanently parked at the entrance) was meant to
lend some hip cred to the enterprise.
❋ Opens September 9, 2002 in the Prospect Tower restaurant space formerly home to The Terrace and Cinco de Mayo, among others. The Italian name translates as 'Empire.'

❋ The team behind L'Impero includes Scott Conant, a young chef who's part of a new wave of celebrity cooks shaking up the food scene in the early aughts.

❋ Conant serves an Italian-American fusion menu, whose signature dish is capretto, slow-roasted baby goat, paired with a sophisticated wine list curated by co-owner Chris Cannon.
❋ The interior (above), a slick melding of giant mirrors, soft lighting, white tablecloths and brown-and-slate-blue upholstery, is designed by Vicente Wolf, who wants it to be "a place where a woman would get dressed up to come." A shimmering white ceiling ‒ the result of six coats of car enamel ‒ is a standout feature.

❋ In December, 2002, NY Times food critic Eric Asimov gives it a gushing, three-star review, calling the spaghetti with sea urchin "powerfully oceanic, as pungent and sexy as a full breath of fresh sea air." As for the wine list, "L'Impero stands apart in a city full of overpriced, underthought wine lists, offering a fairly priced, well-conceived selection." The atmosphere is "calm, comfortable and adult" in keeping with Tudor City itself, "an almost eerily secluded enclave near the United Nations" providing a "welcome sense of dislocation from the rest of the city."

❋ The review makes the place a bona fide foodie destination. Soon, Conant and Cannon expand their empire with Bar Tonno, a downtown Italian raw-fish restaurant, and Alto, a Midtown Northern Italian. Then the partners have a falling out, and Conant leaves L'Impero in May, 2007, replaced by up-and-coming chef Michael White.

❋ It is decided that the five-year-old restaurant needs a makeover, and so L'Impero closes on June 29, 2008. It is reworked into Convivio, a more casual spot, and subject of a future post.

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