Grub Scout: Small-plate items big on flavor at downtown's iCafe

iCafe

Downtown - Knoxville

416 W. Clinch Ave.

865-525-9214

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Normally, I don't do repeat visits to a restaurant unless said restaurant has undergone a major overhaul in menu and/or concept. However, such was the case with iCafe, formerly Le Parigo, that little postage stamp of an eatery on Clinch Avenue downtown. The Grub Spouse and I had had a positive experience at the previous incarnation in '06, and in the wake of a near-total reboot, we decided to check out the new product.

I had forgotten how cozy the space is — a small bar on one side of the room and seating for perhaps 25 or so throughout the rest of the single main room. I honestly couldn't recall if the decor had changed since our last visit. Regardless, most of the ultra-modern chairs were either ottoman-style seats with no backs or stools with backs that offered virtually no resistance. For pure spinal comfort, we sat on one of the wall benches.

Although we were given printed menus, we noticed that our orders were taken on an iPad, and at the end of the evening, we also paid via the device, signing our name on the touchscreen and having the receipt sent to our e-mail address.

The revamped menu lays out selections that are conducive to more of a grazing and sharing meal, as opposed to one with traditional linear courses. There are soups, salads and small plates as well as assortments of meats, cheeses and pates that could be applied to bread or even be used as additional toppings on iCafe's flatbreads (pizzas). The flatbreads could also make a substantial meal for one, as could any of the specialty sandwiches.

Examples of iCafe's fare include red pepper bisque soup, goat cheese and smoked duck salads, an open-face prosciutto sandwich, pan-seared escargot, crab cakes and sardines. Cheese options include Roquefort, Brie and Gouda, while chorizo, salami and Serrano ham are among the meat options.

We ordered one of the seafood small plates — the smoked salmon rolls — as an appetizer of sorts. I enjoyed these very much. It featured real crabmeat in citrus vinaigrette, wrapped in thinly sliced salmon. Very tasty, although at $14.95, the price breaks down to about $7.50 per roll. Ouch.

I decided to try a flatbread ($4.50), which comes with Swiss cheese, and I added prosciutto ($3.95) to mine for a little variety. The Spouse, meanwhile, tried one of the daily specials — a roasted quarter-chicken with roasted potatoes and carrots and greens in balsamic vinaigrette dressing ($13.95).

The chicken was also quite delish — super moist and tender and extremely well flavored. The potatoes and carrots were tender but not mushy. The vinaigrette dressing was a good effort as well.

The flatbread was fair but didn't measure up to quite the same level as the other dishes. The flimsy but chewy crust did boast a generous amount of cheese, but I felt that for four bucks, the thinly shaved prosciutto could have been added more liberally. I also think the flatbread could have been served a little hotter.

Overall, I felt the meal was a success, and we were too satiated to attempt the chocolate cake, poached pear or berries and cream for dessert.

As for service, a single manager held down the entire fort, from bar to food service. For the most part, we received competent, friendly service, although there were a couple of times she got bogged down mixing drinks at the bar when we could have used some back-up attention. For example, our wait between finishing our meals and having our plates cleared and requesting a check was uncomfortably long.

As for pricing, most items are fairly priced, although you can expect to pay a premium for ingredients like crab and duck. Nevertheless, I can still say that this downtown-dining destination was a good pick the second time around as well.

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iCafe

Food: 4

Service: 4

Atmosphere: 4

Overall: 4

Address: 416 W. Clinch Ave.

Phone: 865-525-9214

Hours: 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Sundays through Wednesdays; 5 p.m. to 3 a.m. Thursdays through Saturdays

Full bar service

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Bottom Line: Small plates with an International flare pair nicely with the libations at this recently rebooted, intimate, downtown gathering spot.

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