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Portland Bar Scene: Konami Code at the Imperial

Konami Code at the Imperial
Konami Code at the Imperial
Hoke Harden

Downtown and looking for a good bar lunch? Would you like a place where you can get a particularly well-made cocktail with that lunch? Then you need to drop in at the Imperial, right next to the lovely boutique Hotel Lucia on Broadway.

The food is excellent; how could it not be with Vitaly Paley and his protégé Ben Bettinger opening up the place and, when Bettinger moved on to Laurelhurst Market, Sous Chef Doug Adams took over as Imperial's Chef de Cuisine and made his mark. Adams and Paley are hitting high gear with some outstanding comfort food, Portland style.

Order the fries---everybody orders the fries and secret sauce---and then peruse the rest of the menu. Kale is overdone to exhaustion these days---but when Imperial does their Kale and Vegetable salad you remember everything good about kale in the first place. The Smoked Trout is tasty and the Dungeness Crab Salad is the kind of dish that makes the Northwest what it is. The sandwiches are for those with a hearty appetite, and people have been known to rave about the Fish Sandwich, the Flat Top Burger and the Portobello.

Brandon Wise runs a very tight ship behind the bar. It’s not always the case that a talented and creative top bartender can step up to a management position and excel at both---different skill sets are involved---but Brandon pulls it off nicely. He makes a tough job look easy, and you’ll never see him ruffled or in a bad mood. And service is his thing. As a result, there are top notch people behind the bar, excellent and well-rounded drink programs on the bar, and unfailing first class service to make sure everything runs smoothly on both sides of the bar.

The service staff is on their game at all times, and they are honestly friendly and welcoming without being overly chummy and fawning about it.

When it comes to making a choice of drink from the bar list at Imperial, they don’t make it easy for you. There’s a good solid range of spirits and styles of drinks, and it’s not uncommon to peruse the list and wish you could order several. But since we’re talking about lunch, let’s stick to just one:

The Harlequin sounds good---Oxley gin, Aperol, lemon, house honey (you don’t see that every day) and Chandon California Sparkling Brut Rosé. That’s a contender.

Whoa! Weird name but intriguing. A Radish Walks Into A Bar. Hmm. Carpano Antica Vermouth, Ransom Old Tom gin (Made in Oregon!), lemon, radish gastrique (I’m gonna have to ask), with cracked pepper and salt. Have to think about that one…

Esplendido, maybe? Can’t go wrong with Bacardi 8 year old rum, one of the best rum bargains on the planet. Especially when it’s served with St. Germain Elderflower liqueur, lime and pineapple gomme syrup. A new leader in the pack.

Damn! Here it is. This is the one I have to try: The Konami Code

The Konami Code is as tasty as the description implies, based on Hennessey VS Cognac, and enhanced by Noilly Prat Ambré Vermouth, Becherovka from the Czech Republic, framboise (raspberry) and orange bitters. There’s an awful lot of delicious flavor going on here, yet the drink remains always in perfect balance. The fruity/oaky cognac plays well with this new style of vermouth; the Becherovka throws in some tangy herbal spikes; the framboise fattens up the fruit again; and the orange bitters add both bite and citrus. A deeply satisfying cocktail overall.

Noilly Prat Ambré Vermouth is new to the Portland market…because it’s new to the United States. Initially it is a limited release item in the Noilly Prat vermouth line, but with Portland being such a trendy bar town, some came this way. Look for it, because you’ll want to try this exceptional, flavorful vermouth! The Ambré uses all 25 of the aromatic herbs and spices and botanicals of Noilly Prat Rouge---then adds another 24 for a total of 49, resulting in a mature, barrel-aged vermouth loaded with aromas and flavors such as cardamom, lavender, cinnamon spice, rose petals, and vanilla. It’s both exquisitely complex and robust, and actually a tiny bit sweeter than the Rouge. It makes for some unexpected and delightful cocktail twists, or massively pleasant served simply with soda and a twist of lemon.

The Noilly Prat Ambré plays nicely with the Hennessey Cognac, rounding it out and filling up all the spaces, and the Becherovka adds a sprightly counterpoint to keep things interesting and edgy.

So when you’re down on Broadway, need a nosh and a cocktail, Imperial is the place to go.

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