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In a word: Do you like aioli? How about a different kind of aioli? A third kind? If so, check out the Icon.

The specs: #0309
Address, hours & details via Isthmus; reviews at Yelp, WiSJ, Cap Times, Isthmus, WKOW, QSC, official web site, Icon on Urbanspoon

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JM, John, Judith and Nichole ate the olives and almonds, crab cake, chicken empanada, patatas bravas, seafood flatbread, chicken skewers, Spanish sausage, garlic shrimp, baked goat cheese, flan, Crema Catalana, caramelized bananas, and pear almond tart (13 items total), with a glass of the Osborne Solaz tempranillo cabernet, lemonade, tea, and soda.
The bill was $101, or $25.25/person, plus tip.
JM and Nichole gave the Icon a B+ (see our grading rubric).

The Icon proved to be a fitting place for a dinner around the holidays. While we weren't celebrating anything in particular other than food and friends, both the style and substance of the Icon made our meal feel festive. Outside, rain-slicked State Street looked like New York City. Inside, small lights and a high ceiling felt very Christmasy, though the art and projected movies did not.

Olives and almondsThe tapas menu has about three dozen choices. It's true that there are a few distinctly non-Spanish items on the menu, and unlike a real Spanish tapas bar, bread and olives aren't automatically brought to you. When we asked for some, our server said we could order the mixed olives and almonds, appending, "we're not that authentic." Ah, refreshing honesty!

If you adjust your expectations accordingly, though, Icon provides a nice experience. For starters, the aforementioned olives were a fine mix but the marcona almonds were even better - milder and more tender than standard almonds, lightly salted and pretty to look at, they disappeared fast.

Chicken empanada

Crab cakeFor starters, we ordered a chicken empanada, the seafood flatbread, a crab cake, and baked goat cheese. The crab cake was only so-so, though it held together well with plenty o' crab flavor, and seemed to be fortified with ground nuts. The chicken empanada ("Icon's chicken pot pie") was great winter food: hot and salty, with pieces of tender meat in a slightly tough crust. Daubed on the side was the first of many variations on aioli that we'd encounter during the course of the meal.

Seafood flatbreadThe seafood flatbread was  recommended by our server, who used the substantial wine list to demonstrate the size of the plate we'd be getting. There were several options, including chorizo, cheese, and asparagus, but the seafood was a good choice. Scallops and shrimp were adhered with a small amount of cheese to a crisp, light bread, sprinkled with basil over herbed olive oil.

Chicken skewerThe chicken skewers were a big hit, especially with the men in our group. They were exceptionally moist inside. The bed of grilled onions and green peppers had absorbed some of the poultry goodness. On the side was a very tasty whole-seed mustard aioli.

Spanish sausage...in 3-D!

Sans fancy skewers, the sausages a la plancha may have looked like something you'd find on the buffet at Aunt Bev's Christmas spread, but in flavor they had nothing to do with Lil Smokies. The two sliced sausages had a Spamlike appearance; once slice was unremarkable (standard, fatty sausage); the spammiest looking slice had a good smoky tang; and the little links stood out as our favorite, with a liver flavor and a spicy edge to them. The herbed (you guessed it) aioli tried but failed to give a fresh contrast to the heavy flavors on this one - we found it better to wallow in naked meaty goodness.

Patatas bravasCompleting the meat and potatoes theme, here we have the patatas bravas ("spicy potatoes"). They did have a decent kick to them, which the chili-spiked (drum roll) aioli added to. These were another favorite at our table.

At this point, we'd begun to feel some of the greasy effects of the *hic* aioli. Thankfully the tide of artfully prepared mayonnaises finally receded. No question, they were tasty, but had we read the menu more closely and coordinated our courses, we may have been able to pace ourselves better. For you see, Icon is aioliholic.

Garlic shrimp

Next, a dish of baked garlic shrimp provided a nice fresh contrast to the heaviness of some of the other tapas items. John and Judith observed that this was similar to what you'd get in Spain, except that the oil would have been served boiling-hot in a little pot, and the pepper flakes and garlic would have been in the oil rather than sprinkled on top. Still, this was nice; the fresh shrimp flavor came through, and the garlic-toasted bread was a delight.

Goat cheeseLast but not least of the savory tapas, the goat cheese finally arrived. More garlic toast served as a vehicle for the soft, somewhat bland cheese, but once the other diners had thrown in the towel, Nichole found a spoon did just as well. The lake of tomato sauce, while welcome as one of the only vegetables on the table, was not much more adventurous than standard marinara.

FlanAnd so we attacked the dessert options with vigor, each ordering one. (This is where tapas gets really fun, especially for the attention-impaired.) The traditional flan was a little too dense and eggy, lacking the jiggle one likes to see. A light lemon sauce, one huge blackberry, and a valiant attempt at a strawberry (it is December, after all) decorated the plate.

Crema CatalanaThe crema Catalana was another favorite. Nichole had the pleasure of cracking into it first. We agreed it was kind of heavy, even for a dessert of its kind; if anything, it was more dense than its relative, creme brulee. Maybe it was just the espresso-chocolate variation, but dipping into this little ramekin was like eating a pot of pure fudge. Not a bad thing.

Caramelized bananasThe caramelized banana came with one adorable little dip of rich vanilla ice cream and a few crushed pistachios. It was very skillfully done - the sugars had crystallized just right and formed a fun-to-crack shell on each banana slice.

Pear almond tart

Finally, the pear almond tart was quite dense. One or two big pieces of pear could be found inside, but it was mostly a thick, marzipan-like base. Like the bananas, the tart had nice bits of caramelized sugar around the edges. The crust was delectable - ground almonds and sugar packed down and soaked with a little syrup.

There were a few disappointments, however. JM, having perused the menu in the window, had looked forward to trying a lamb skewer, but found out that the dish had been cut and the menu hadn't been changed. This was odd given the Icon's short life to date. Similarly, they weren't serving gazpacho (to Nichole's chagrin - though she knows it's goofy, if not downright gauche, to ask for a summer soup in December).

It's not goofy, however, to want a place to hang your coat in a Wisconsin winter, and we hope they add some coat hooks or a coat rack - anything better than the backs of our chairs or the end of the bench. On the other hand, you might want to keep your coat on if you're near the front, since the single door doesn't protect against drafts.

Overall, the Icon was fun. Though it's true that in Spain, similar snacks would have been a couple bucks each, our meal was nicer than expected.

Comments

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Great pictures, guys.
The food looks delish!
Jim and I'll check it out for date night!

Just a note... we talked to the owner about the single door and the drafts and he said that the City of Madison has some ordinance or something that prohibited it.

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