Food Well Done

Michael and Victoria Imperioli Share the New York Restaurants They Haunt, and the Rules of Conduct for Their New Bar

All images courtesy of Scarlet, and Michael and Victoria Imperioli.

Almost two decades after they closed Ciel Rouge, the Chelsea speakeasy they ran and lived above, Michael and Victoria Imperioli have brought their signature red upholstery to a new joint on the Upper West Side. Scarlet, the result of a partnership with serial restaurateur Jeremy Wladis, opened last December to fans eagerly awaiting what the cult actor and sought-after interior designer would serve up this time around.

The look? Sleek velvet and metal finishes meet ceramic Buddhas and crisp white countertops. The menu? An zero-proof wonderland, courtesy of mixologist Matt Burkhardt (Plenty of options for drinkers and foodies alike, as well). The score? Jazz age. A month into their journey as Scarlet's fairy godparents, the iconic couple called up CULTURED to talk about insider cooking tips, their favorite New York haunts, and why bars should be spaces that fuel creativity and community. 

Where are you, and what’s in your system? What have you had to eat or drink today? 

Victoria Imperioli: I had coffee and strawberries. 

How do you take your coffee? 

Victoria: Black. 

What about you, Michael?

Michael Imperioli: Well, we are in New York. I pretty much have the same breakfast everyday: Greek yogurt with granola and berries, olive oil, hot curry powder, Tumeric, black pepper, and cardamom. 

Scarlet opened in December. It’s not the first time you’ve worked on a bar project together. What has surprised you the most about this time around?

Michael: Victoria built and opened the first bar, Ciel Rouge, the year before we met. We were very much running that bar. We didn’t have partners. With this bar, we do have partners that handle the operational stuff, which is great because we’re not at a point in our lives where that’s what we wanted to do. It was more about influencing the vibe and the mood. What’s been most surprising is how much people are enjoying it and the diverse crowd that it has attracted both as a neighborhood bar and as a destination bar in the city.

I had this acting teacher who always said the criteria for whatever your work is should always be “Did you do what you set out to do? And if not, why not?” What Victoria set out to do was create an environment that made people feel comfortable and happy, that was inspiring and interesting, and I think people are getting exactly that.


What made you choose the Upper West Side as a location?

Victoria: We live on the Upper West Side, and we love the Upper West Side. To me, it’s the most interesting neighborhood in New York by far—architecturally, in terms of history, and in terms of its vibe. And a very good friend of ours who owns a lot of restaurants on the Upper West Side approached us to design a space. I love the 1920s vibe for it because so many of the old buildings here—including the one we live in, which was constructed in 1926—are of that era. We are constantly swimming in that era in New York without realizing it.

The color red was a motif for both Ciel Rouge and Scarlet. What keeps you coming back to it?

Victoria: It’s a very good public color. It’s very stimulating, it’s very warm, and everyone looks good in red. I like very direct, natural colors especially in terms of the reds. When they’re muted, they get muddy. They don’t exude the same fire vibe. Scarlet’s red is a wine color, and I just felt it was right for the period and for the design.

You’re also curating the music for the spot. Michael, you’re obviously in a band called Zopa. What can people expect in terms of the playlist and any live music offerings?

Michael: It is still in the very early stages. We just had our first live music event with Alec Gaston. There’s been a lot of people reaching out unsolicited, but we have people that we know from our own contacts that we’ve spoken to. Part of it is finding the right balance. Right now people are going to drink and have snacks and socialize. If you add a musician into that environment, where people are not necessarily going to see an act, they are not always obliged to be quiet and listen. As far as the playlist, right now the people who are behind the bar are coming up with a more jazzy vibe.

From left: Kenna Wladis, Michael Imperioli, Jeremy Wladis, and Victoria Imperioli.

What’s your favorite thing to order at Scarlet?

Michael: I like this non-alcoholic Belgian beer that they have that I’ve never seen anywhere else. I like non-alcoholic beers as an alternative to drinking alcohol, and it’s only in recent years that they’ve gotten to be good. They were usually like a punishment.

Victoria: There are also a couple of wines and sparkling wines that are non-alcoholic. I love them because they are very high quality. We wanted very high-end stuff that doesn’t feel like others are enjoying themselves and you are not. I feel like everybody should be able to come to Scarlet. It's not a place to get drunk: It’s a place for community, for socializing, for enjoying yourself. 

Along those lines, what do you want to see more and less of in New York’s bar culture? 

Victoria: More interesting, less drunk. I would love to see more people who get stimulated by being somewhere with others rather than going on a solo mission to shut down all the systems. A bar should be a creative space.

What are your favorite places to eat in New York, other than Scarlet?

Michael: I like Leyla on West 74th Street. I like Lucali in Brooklyn. We like Jody Williams’s restaurants, Via Carota and I Sodi. She’s an old friend, and she’s always done really amazing stuff. Hop Kee on Mott Street is an institution. Da Nico is the last of the authentic Italian places on Mulberry Street. 


What’s the most underrated ingredient and the most overrated ingredient right now?

Michael: Lately, I learned to use the stems of herbs, especially if you’re making a garlic and oil base for pasta and sauces and stuff like that. At the end, you’re going to brighten it with basil, so you put the stems in with the garlic as you flavor the oil with the garlic before the garlic gets brown. You take them out, and the oil gets infused with some of that herbaceous flavor. I just learned that from this great Italian chef on Instagram, Max Mariola.

What is the dish that you feel like represents each of you in the place where you’re at in your life right now? 

Michael: Vegetarian meatballs. 

Victoria: I have to second it. Michael makes killer vegetarian meatballs. 

Michael: I use the family recipe, but with plant-based meat. It took a while to get it right but I got to a place where I really like it. 

Victoria: Michael also made an amazing pesto sauce that was to die for.

Michael: F. Murray Abraham came over for dinner. He was the first one to have it. We made pasta. 

For more tips and opinionated takes from food experts, see our interviews with Molly BazSohla El-Waylly, and Andy Baraghani