Let’s face it: Although the new Icon Ultra Lounge is as much (if not more) a lounge than it is an eatery, The Grub Spouse and I weren’t about to pass up a chance to dine inside that shiny, highly perched golden orb known as the Knoxville Sunsphere (or Wigsphere, for all you “Simpsons” fans).
To my amazement, The Spouse had never been up inside this iconic (hence, the restaurant’s name) downtown attraction. I had only taken that elevator ride once before, so we were both eager to see what awaited us. We arrived on the early side, because we wanted to get the benefit of daytime views. The elevator took us to Level 5, which is one level above the observation deck.
Roughly a third of the restaurant level is devoted to lounge seating, while another third offers a half-dozen or so high-top tables for dining. Full-service bars are located in both sectors and connect to the kitchen area, which accounts for the remaining third of the level’s square footage.
We were seated at one of the high-tops, affording us a stunning view of North and West Knoxville, while the bar side looks out toward the south and downtown. In keeping with the sphere’s exterior look and abundance of glass windows, the interior decor is on the modern side, sporting plenty of glass and chrome in a predominantly black, white and metallic color palette.
In an almost obligatory play on words, the dinner menu, entitled “World’s Fare,” lays out a modest selection of soups and salads, small plates and entrees. The menu does take a global approach to cuisine, reflected in sandwich offerings like the shrimp Po’ Boy and German beer burger and pita pizzas like the Mediterranean veggie, Iconic Hawaiian and the feta garden.
We first looked at the small plates, which features petite burgers, spring rolls and fish tacos. We considered the fried artichoke hearts and stuffed baby portabella mushroom before trying the mini crab cakes ($9). The cakes were satisfying to the buds, but the serving of three, small cakes struck me as pricy.
For our entrees, we were tempted by the filet of beef tenderloin, but I went with the chicken scaloppini ($15), and The Spouse ordered the pork medallions ($11). The portions weren’t skimpy in either case, but the quality was inconsistent between the dishes.
The medallions, on one hand, dazzled with their blend of Cuban-marinade pork tenderloin and mixture of black beans and mango salsa. However, the scaloppini was totally underwhelming. The chicken was dry, and the sauce in which the pasta was tossed was virtually absent of flavor. The menu offers a quintet of tempting desserts, and we tried the Peanut Butter Blast ($7) — a creamy peanut butter mousse, brownie chunks, Reese’s Cup pieces and chocolate truffle in a chocolate crumb crust. It was pretty good but, in my opinion, it didn’t live up to the printed hype.
Although we were the only customers, our server was inconsistent — at times, very cordial and going the extra mile, while at other times, absent and inattentive. And while the views were outstanding, the upscale-dining mood was constantly interrupted by sightseeing adults as well as unsupervised kids and teens, bursting out of the elevator and loudly scampering around to look out the windows, using Icon as another observation deck.
Hopefully, management will work out a system to keep these interruptions minimized. In the meantime, next time I decide to do a little high-altitude viewing, I’ll just stop on Level 4.
Icon Ultra Lounge
Food: 3.5 stars (out of five)
Address: 810 Clinch Ave.
Hours: 4 p.m. to midnight, Tuesdays through Thursdays; 4 p.m. to 3 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays
Full bar service
Bottom Line: On a clear day you can see Farragut from the vantage point of this eatery and lounge inside the iconic Sunsphere.
© 2013, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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