by Heidi Arenberg
I walked into State Street’s plush Spanish tapas bar, The Icon, confidently considering myself somewhat of a foodie; I’ve always been one to go for the unique dish on the menu. I started eating sushi when I was 12 (and drinking coffee when I was 9). I favor green tea ice cream to plain old vanilla and smoked salmon on crackers to chips and dip. But it turns out all these qualities are merely personal quirks; although I’d love to consider my taste buds experienced and refined, I know nothing about food.
Because, to be honest, I wasn’t even sure what tapas were when I sat down at my table. Neither did my friend Amanda who, since I can always count on her to empty off a plate with me, I brought along. Sure enough, after informing us of the happy hour specials ($3.50 tapas from 4-6pm daily, 11pm-1am on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and 12-2am on Fridays and Saturdays), the helpful waitress explained to us how the dishes work; they’re small plates (much like appetizers) so she suggested ordering about 6 for the table of 2. That’s the key to tapas dining—bringing a friend. It’s all about experiencing little portions of different entrees, so sharing is essential.
Chatting at our table, we mused on how unique the restaurant is. Inspired by mid-twentieth century pop culture (think Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, Dean Martin), red accents like comfy pillows in the booths and exquisite chandeliers on the ceilings set an elegant ambience while perpetually classy jazz music played. A fairly small restaurant, the most is made of the limited room with a full bar taking up the right half and dimly lit tables filling the remaining space. And I’m still reeling over the sweeping wall of wine bottles visible as soon as you walk in the door. A week away from turning 21, I had to pass on the alcohol, but the restaurant’s wine and drink menu is truly extensive.
However, although it probably goes without saying, the most notable feature of my dining experience at The Icon was the food. After facing a menu overflowing with interesting dishes (Spanish Deviled Eggs! Tuna Tartare! Coca Margherita!) my meal was more than just a meal, but an experience, an education, a wake up call to expand my horizons a bit. Okay, maybe to expand my horizons a lot a bit: when trying to decide what tapas to order, Amanda and I, thinking ourselves to be oh-so adventurous, thought it’d be gutsy to pick an “exotic” dish (one whose contents were unclear and whose name we couldn’t pronounce). And that’s how we ended up with a platter of fried potatoes. Apparently, our linguistic skills aren’t developed enough to recognized “Patatas Bravas” as something containing potatoes. But our lack of Spanish knowledge turned out to be a blessing—this was our favorite plate out of the five we ordered. Tossed in bravas oil, they were the epitome of flavorful and achieved the perfect level of crispiness. And they’re served with sundried tomato aioli. Here’s a little fact about aioli: It’s the tastiest. Thing. Ever.
Over our next plate, the mildly spicy and lusciously flaky “Chicken Empanada” (served with more aioli!), we reminisced on our first dish, the indescribably delicious “Baked Goat Cheese.” A creamy ball of goat cheese surrounded by the eatery’s house tomato sauce and garlic parsley oil with garlic bread for dipping, the goat cheese made us crazy. And by crazy, I mean we couldn’t get enough, so when we ran out of bread with cheese left to spare, we dipped our next dish, the “Potato Croquettes,” in the leftovers. Don’t get me wrong—the croquettes were delectable with just their designated topping (saffron aioli, what else?), but the goat cheese was just so outstanding that we couldn’t bear to see it be bussed away half uneaten.
And that brings us to the “Fried Calamari.” Fans of anything fried, we were drawn to this dish because of its name and the promise of more aioli (jalapeno this time). We got just we were hoping for—somewhat crunchy and completely yummy calamari with a spicy dipping sauce—but due to the still-squid-like shape of half the pieces, we immediately turned into kids and made the fried little guys dance around, pondering on what would happen if the tentacles came back alive and stuck to the insides of our mouths. And that’s when I knew college kids need this restaurant; it serves a distinct genre of mouthwatering and reasonably priced (we each spent about $17) foods and does so within a relaxingly chic atmosphere, proving that even though we may never grow up, our palates can and will as long as we continue to dine at places like The Icon.
The Icon is located at 206 State Street across from the Overture Center. The kitchen is open Tuesdays 4pm-9pm, Wednesdays 4pm-11pm, Thursdays through Saturdays 4pm-12am, and Sundays 4pm-9pm. The bar is open Tuesdays 4pm-9pm, Wednesdays 4pm-11pm, Thursdays through Saturdays 4pm-2am, and Sundays 4pm-9pm. Mondays are available to book private parties. For more information, call (608)256-3000.