The Empress staff took reservations from party goers at a private grand opening celebration Saturday night. This might explain why reservations through opentable.com are only available from Sept. 8 on. Well-wishers – many of them local restaurant industry professionals – packed Empress, housed in the large basement space of the Crest Theatre that once held two movie auditoriums.
Only two elements remain recognizable from those movie days: the bathrooms, which have been renovated but retain the same layout, and a popcorn smell that wafts down from the Crest’s lobby as one ascends the stairs back to ground level.
Instead of independent film, the space now showcases abundant brick, running from archways to the walls that serve as backdrops for the restaurant’s deep, inviting booths. The design, by local architect Saxon Sigerson, suggests medieval Europe, though Michael Thiemann, Empress co-owner and co-executive chef (with Matt Masera), said Saturday the goal was a look that would have suited the Crest at any point in its history. That history dates to 1913, when the building at 1013 K St. opened as the Empress vaudevillian theater.
Appetizers went fast at Saturday’s party, though we did snag a piece of turducken (a chicken stuffed into a duck, with the result then stuffed into a turkey). It offered an intriguingly sweet finish and tasted most prominently of turkey.
Plans to allow Crest patrons to take alcoholic beverages to their theater seats have been put on hold, theater manager Yulya Borroum said, until details are worked out.
For information on Empress, call 916-662-7694. Or swing by. The dinner-only restaurant’s bar opens at 5 p.m. Thursday, for those who want to see the space’s remarkable transformation firsthand.