[HOT HEARTH] Imperial opened in 2012 with an irresistible pitch: local legend Vitaly Paley teams with wunderkind for contemporary takes on classic Oregon territory fare from a wood-fired grill inside a chic space at downtown's Hotel Lucia. Two years later—and with a different wunderkind—the grill is really glowing. The baronial dining room of cushy chairs and patchy brick is bustling with tourists asking for an inside line on the tiniest Willamette Valley wineries, and the bartender/sommelier is well-equipped to help. New chef Doug Adams (Pok Pok and…Lucier?) seems a star in the making, turning out a splendid and very modern compressed watermelon salad ($9) dressed in chili oil and fennel while the guys in sweaty bandannas working the grill use an infrared thermometer to get perfect sausages. Local seafood is justifiably popular, especially with visitors, but inlanders will appreciate the big ol' slab of wood covered in assorted bits of local lamb, as with the mixed grill ($39). Everything on that slab—a wee T-bone, two steaky slices of leg, a juicy sausage and a few tender bits of shoulder—was wonderful, but the shoulder was a revelation. MARTIN CIZMAR.
Don't skip pastry chef Michelle Vernier's desserts, and keep an eye out for the outlandishly decadent brown butter pecan pie ($7).