New-restaurant orientation

Icon Restaurant and Lounge

1431 R St.
Sacramento, CA 95814

(916) 492-0004

You might be forgiven for feeling a little disoriented upon walking into Icon Restaurant and Lounge, which has been open since mid-November in the space formerly occupied by Sammy Chu’s. For starters, Sammy Chu’s opened and closed so fast that it practically created a draft. In fact, a sign for the former tenant is still visible (though not lit up) on the back of the building.

Even if you’re not doing a double take because you thought you were going to a different restaurant, you might think you ended up in a different city. Icon’s hip, spare and linear décor looks a little more San Francisco than Sacramento. Or rather, it looks like the new, evolving Sacramento. Warmly earth-toned concrete blends with cool, dark woods and vibrant colors that vary by room. Odd but interesting panels display portraits of the famous, from Muhammad Ali to Prince, and presumably inspire the name Icon. The overall effect is stripped-down and stylish.

The sly references to various icons continue on the cocktail menu, where my husband spotted the Raspberry Beret. The tart, deep-pink concoction had him singing a few bars—and that was before he drank it. There are other specialty cocktails, as well as a wine list that’s short but to the point, with drinkable, affordable options.

The dinner menu is similarly structured. It’s not overlong, but it’s flexible and likely to please. It offers a number of categories: appetizers, salads (both starter salads and main-dish choices with steak and chicken), small plates, large plates and pizzas. The focus is on jazzed-up versions of classic American food, from an iceberg-wedge salad to chicken potpie.

We started, however, with something off the appetizer menu—grilled artichokes with a thyme and serrano aioli. The three big halves were charred outside and were deliciously smoky and perfectly cooked throughout. The long stems were left on for a dramatic presentation, and the aioli had a nice kick to it.

The juicy wedge salad was drizzled with a tangy vinaigrette-style gorgonzola dressing (a far cry from the thick, pasty-white blue cheese of yesteryear) and came with tasty cornmeal croutons. I felt they could have been crispier, but my husband liked that they were a bit soft in the middle. Apparently, we have a hitherto unsuspected philosophical disagreement about the nature of croutons. Luckily, we realized we could get past it when we noticed that the salad was gone.

For an entree, I ordered the chicken potpie, a real bargain from the small-plates menu. It came in an enormous ramekin and had a salad of mixed greens on the side. The dish was an ample dinner all by itself, and it was nostalgically yummy to boot. Chicken potpie tends to remind me of watching Solid Gold on Saturday nights, as my mom heated up a Swanson chicken potpie before the babysitter arrived. There was nothing wrong with Swanson at the time, but the rich crust and densely packed filling of Icon’s version was a definite improvement. (If I were going to quibble, I would say that I could have done with slightly less carrot in the filling, but I always picked the carrot bits out of my Swanson pie, too.)

My husband had one of the large plates, which did match its name: a big, juicy slab of prime rib with a fat wedge of potato gratin. It was probably the fanciest thing on the menu, but it still tasted rather like Mom used to make, only better. Mild horseradish and a savory jus came alongside, and the gratin was happily creamy and cheesy.

Although we were quite full, we jumped at the chance to order from the short list of homey yet trendy sweets. Either of the two we chose, the selection of milk and cookies and the loosely interpreted s’mores, would have amply served a table of three or four. The milk (or ice cream) and cookies included three giant cookies: chewy chocolate chip, white-chocolate chip and macadamia nut. All were good and were a pleasant departure from the selection of tiny, precious cookies one often sees on trendy dessert menus. Plus, although my husband ordered the milk, he ended up with a big scoop of ice cream, as well—a bonus.

The s’more was a giant square of crumbly, thick graham-cracker crust, topped with an equally thick layer of fudgy chocolate ganache. This was drowned in a slightly too-sweet chocolate sauce and topped with a foamy, toasted marshmallow sauce. I loved the graham cracker and chocolate together, but the dessert was marred by a sprinkling of lemon and lime zest over the top. The citrus clashed with the chocolate and made the sweet marshmallowy goo taste like lemon Pledge. The same sprinkling adorned my husband’s ice cream, equally pointlessly—an updated version (and a more intrusive one) of the mint leaf that once thoughtlessly garnished every dessert.

Icon’s kitchen, on the whole, seems too good for such shenanigans. Its dishes are creative yet classic, and the cooking bright but restrained. Together, the hip atmosphere and enjoyable food make for a fun night out at a spot that should outlast its predecessor—as long as the restaurant space itself doesn’t bring with it a curse that leads to more disoriented diners.