Imperial Hotel -- Ripe for Romance
Sierra Lodestar 06/29/11

The Imperial’s Ripe for Romance

By Antoinette May Herndon

I’m going out on a limb. I’m nominating Amador City’s Imperial Hotel as the most romantic eatery in three counties. Whether it’s winter, summer, fall, or spring this historic restaurant is invariably intimate and inviting, seductive and opulent.

Time doesn’t stand still at the Imperial but it does slow down a bit. Things happen here . . . sometimes before your very eyes.

The hotel, bar and restaurant, built in 1879, has seen enough action in 132 years to spawn a legion of ghosts. Mary Ann McCamant, who, with her husband Jim, owns the Imperial, claims to have seen at least one. A gunslinger is said to have met his end at the hotel. When the one-time bad man occasionally forgets his place in the cosmic scheme of things, Mary Ann placates his restless shade with a shot of whiskey left in the room where the bad guy met his maker.

The Imperial’s tiny bar—the first thing one notices—is a little gem, straight from central casting. One doesn’t need much imagination to conjure up images of John Wayne, Kirk Douglas or Robert Mitchum, slouchy hats, sexy grins and six guns always at the ready. So much for ambience. But take my word for it, this is a real bar. There’s nothing day dreamy about the drinks dispensed at the Imperial Their martinis are lethal and delicious.

The adjoining dining room, quieter by far, is equally tempting. Call it frontier opulence. The two aren’t exactly natural go-togethers. More like mutually exclusive, but somehow the

McCamants have achieved the seemingly impossible with exposed brick, silk hangings and vivid paintings. Whimsy is the operative word and it makes for a fun evening.

Now that summer has finally arrived, diners can also opt for the lovely, leafy outdoor garden. It’s ideal for sunset watching. Again, very romantic.

There are many delicious choices on the menu but neither Charles nor I could resist the beet salad. It sounded so good (mixed lettuces with Point Reyes Blue cheese, roasted beets, walnuts and honey-mustard vinaigrette) that splitting one seemed unthinkable. We each ordered our own at $7.

Charles had a glass of pinot noir with his very delicious pumpkin ravioli ($13—served with butter, garlic, wine and sage sauce.) Do you know what Joel Fleishchman wrote about pinot noir in “Vanity Fair”? His words are too good not to pass on.

Fleischman called pinot noir “the most romantic of wines, with so voluptuous a perfume, so sweet an edge, and so powerful a punch that, like falling in love, it makes the blood run hot and the soul wax embarrassingly poetic.”

Well! With that kind of recommendation it was hard not to order a bottle. Why not a case!

But I was having the wild white Mexican shrimp rubbed with chilli and ginger in a lemon garlic sauce ($24) and that put me in a viognier kind of mood.

Viognier is my favourite white. Gewuztramier is too sweet, chardonnay too dry, chenin blanc too blah. Viognier is just right. Do you like it too? What’s your favourite brand? Email me.


finally, we come to the subject of desserts, a specialty at the Imperial. Each is a creation of the celebrated Ingrid Fraser, a Culinary Institute star known throughout Northern California for elegant and delicious cakes. Sunset Magazine features Fraser’s desserts and recipes and she teaches pastry classes for the Amador County Learning Network. Faced with such temptation, who wants to be strong? Charles chose a chocolate hazelnut tart ($7.50). I picked the strawberry sundae (also 7.50.)

I say there comes a time to throw caution, calories and cash to the winds. The Imperial Hotel is definitely the place.

VITALS: The Imperial Hotel is located at 14202 Old Highway 49, Amador City. Phone: 267-9172. Dinner: Tuesday through Sunday starting at 5 p.m. Lunch from noon to two on weekends. Credit cards accepted. Reservations desirable. There are six decorator-style bedrooms upstairs— views, large comfortable beds, antiques touches—each with a private bath.

The Imperial also hosts a midweek supper special, a chef’s three-course dinner, (in addition to the regular menu) for $27. Best to call for information and reservations.

Winemaker’s Dinners are another Imperial offering. See:

PICTURES: The outdoor garden is a seasonal delight at the Imperial Hotel in Amador City.

Lindsey Jaeggerts is a pretty and knowledgeable addition to the Imperial Hotel’s wait staff.

Muted colors add to the Imperial Hotel’s unique ambience.