There is, of course, the matter of the voluminous art balls. But first I should digress.

The changing economy has thrown some of our chi-chi downtown businesses into an identity crisis. A lot of local higher-end restaurants are losing money and scaling back. A few have already gone under (Stars, Falling Waters, Adriatica). For Fifth Avenue's elaborate icon Grill, will the strain eventually show?

The place offers nothing if not atmosphere. It's an immensely pink room--dusty pink, petal pink, ruddy pink; as if icon's creator and principle owner Gary Dethlefs couldn't get that Aerosmith song out of his head.

Dethlefs is a restaurant interior designer (he dressed Palomino and Palisades) who decided to open his own eating spot three years ago, in the midst of Seattle's robust economic surge. The result is a near-avalanche of expensive bric-a-brac layered over walls and virtually every surface: art prints, lamps, Baroque mirrors, toys... an intense farrago that seems like a product of Seattle's money, excess, and bravado circa 1998, when the icon Grill opened--a bravado that hasn't quite faded. Which brings us back to those art balls. Made of decorative glass, they sit up near the restaurant's ceiling, waiting to tumble just as precariously as the economy.

The menu has a definite empathy for comfort foods: lots of butter, cream, and aioli. This seems fitting in a room as lavish as this one. The (Artichoke)2 ($9) is incredibly tasty. Stuffed with melted Gruyère cheese, onion, and diced bell peppers and topped with buttery breadcrumbs, it is served with thin crostini. The earthy-sweet artichoke works well alongside the creamy cheese sauce and the side of chive hollandaise. As I ate, my server brought bread with flavored cold butters: plain, kalamata olive, and pesto/pine nut. Puréed yellow pepper soup ($5.50) was on the sweet side, cooked with apple juice, and served with salsa and roasted cashews, which floated like cheery little embryos. Those cashews really hit the spot.

Chef Nick Musser certainly does not overlook the blessings of simple starch. The icon Grill's much-touted Ultimate Macaroni & Cheese ($10.50) comes straight from the oven in a crock, and is also topped with breadcrumbs. With sharp white cheddar, Parmesan, and other cheeses, it's salty with a peppery bite; a little pitcher of additional Velveeta-like "secret" sauce is served on the side. (This dish was not the ambrosia the menu claimed it to be.)

Many items on the menu are grilled over apple wood, so flavors are outstanding. Grilled prime New York steak ($28/$33) is accompanied by a baked potato, and my server cheerfully called the potato topping "goop." The goop looks like white lava with chives; fortunately, the combo of butter/sour cream/Asiago cheese garnished with bacon specks and a minuscule amount of red pepper bits tastes fabulous. Addicted to the lava, I could not put down my fork. Accompanied by fried sweet onion strings and exactly four sautéed green beans (vegetables are reduced to a garnish here), the plate is a tasty but hedonistic exaggeration of the plain American standard.

The grilled king salmon ($22) and yellowfin tuna ($24) dishes, served with more restrained sauces, are much less ostentatious than icon's incredibly rich, nouveau Americana: Fried chicken with cream gravy ($16.50), molasses-glazed meatloaf ($15), and "Pasghetti and [GARGANTUAN] Meatballs" ($13.50) all seem to crow about success and plenitude. After all, icon's menu was conceived during our software boom years.

It's a macho thing, in the end. But there is a flip side. And it's hard to go to the icon Grill and not think about that--especially right now, when our economy seems as fragile as those glittery, transparent balls.

icon Grill

1933 Fifth Ave, 441-6330. Lunch Mon-Fri 11:30 am-2 pm, dinner Mon-Fri 5:30-10:00 pm, Sat dinner only 5:30-11:00 pm, Sun dinner only 5-10:00 pm. $$.

Price Scale (per entrée)

$ = $10 and under; $$ = $10-$20; $$$ = $20 and up.

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