Hungry for Design’s authors are Susan Battista and Fritz Klaetke—partners in both work and life. By day they run Visual Dialogue, a branding and design firm where Susan leads strategy and Fritz leads creative. By night, they can be found sharing meals (and opinions) at restaurants all over Boston and beyond.
A little bit of Vegas right here in Boston
Is Empire all aces or a bust?
Boston’s Seaport District is undergoing a development boom with new buildings sprouting up like weeds. Drive by after not being in the neighborhood for a few weeks and you’ll see a new tower in the skyline or a crane working on the next one. While we question the urban planning and most of the architecture in the area, it’s undeniably in the midst of transformation. So with this influx of residents, office workers, and tourists, naturally a restaurant boom has happened as well.
Step inside one of the generic glass office buildings next to the Institute of Contemporary Art and suddenly you’ve been transported to Vegas, baby.
Empire, an Asian-themed restaurant, has a big, bold, lush, no-expenses-spared feel that seems more at home on “The Strip” then Northern Ave. The place is owned by Big Night Entertainment Group that also owns a restaurant at Foxwoods which may explain the casino feel. Interior design seems like an afterthought at too many restaurants in Boston but here at Empire it’s front and center and in your face.
As you enter through one of the many lounges you pass a mirrored display that is reminiscent of the glass infinity works of artist Josiah McElheny. The subdued club music sets a festive mood—so much better than the 80s rock heard at too many places around town.
Vivid colors, metallics, rich textiles, and assorted patterns convey an opulent tone throughout this very large (14,000 sf) space that includes a number of lounges, main dining room, side dining rooms, bar area, sushi bar, and private dining rooms. The creative use of materials present an impressive unified vision. It’s hard to take a bad picture inside Empire because it’s perfectly lit and looks like a magazine spread (selfie fans take note). The interior design is yet another example of the masterful work of the prolific and talented Niemitz Design Group which did not leave one surface unconsidered, not even the ceiling.
A large, Tiffany blue, lacquered vent surrounds the open kitchen in the main dining room. Not only attractive but highly functional because while you could see a lot of woks in play, there’s no odor or smoke in the room. The beautiful pastel hue contrasts with the bold gold, brown, and red colors used throughout. A gorgeous Wedgewood blue patterned wallpaper (covered by glass) surrounds the kitchen as well and makes an otherwise industrial area look elegant.
But it takes more that a great looking restaurant to make for a great overall experience and Empire may want to “deal” with a few issues. Make sure you’ve had a fluoride treatment before you get a drink there. The drinks were so sickeningly sweet they tasted like Now and Later candy. Even the miso roasted sea bass was a little too sweet—we wished many of the dishes had more of a kick. Stick to the sushi.
The graphic branding and website have a chain restaurant look and feel that would work for P.F. Chang’s but don’t do much to compliment the very high-end interior here.
But all in all, the over-the-top Asian gangster vibe deals a winning hand. So for your next night out on the town consider rolling the dice and giving Empire a chance. We’re sure you’ll leave feeling like a “high rollah” (and for a lot less than a flight to Vegas).