At Iconiq, Respect the Unexpected

The new French-Japanese Mount Baker restaurant strikes a tricky balance between ambitious dining and the sort of casual neighborhood hang Seattle so enjoys.

By Allecia Vermillion June 13, 2017 Published in the July 2017 issue of Seattle Met

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Saikyo-yaki kinki with pickled vegetable -garnish and a chimichurri of yuzu kosho on forbidden rice.

The view from Iconiq’s dining room is at once startling and magnetic, and not just when sunset floods its tables in gold—a westward gaze from atop Mount Baker ridge at a skyline that encompasses a teasing sliver of Elliott Bay and an expanse of neighborhoods so thick with trees that it’s more pastoral than cityscape. The restaurant is as unexpected as its view. 

Okay, yes: Iconiq’s spelling seems more insufferable nightclub than understated destination restaurant. But then the terrine of chilled vegetables arrives, a crunchy kaleidoscope firmed with jellied vegetable stock and bound by a cabbage leaf—summer salad that masquerades as art. Next, risotto so imbued with herbs (parsley, dill, chervil...) and lemon that it’s tempting to describe it as light and ethereal—never mind that it’s butter rich and topped with sweetbreads fried in Japan’s tatsuta-age style for crunch. By the time the chilled summer berry soup arrives for dessert, its refreshing tartness and the room’s mellow hum have erased those initial fears of bottle service or heavy bass.

In this enclave of tidy Craftsmans, customers might walk in (though plenty make reservations) with reasonable expectations of chopped salads or straightforward roast chicken, maybe a kids menu. Instead they receive an amuse-bouche, that unbidden welcome from the chef before the meal begins. It could be a shooter of verdant pea soup with wasabi creme fraiche or a bite of scrambled egg with roe; either way it’s a sign this place traverses a careful line between high end and low key.

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Chef-owner Toshiyuki Kawai plates in Iconiq’s very open kitchen; a salmon crepe with granny smith apple, fennel, wasabi cream, and orange reduction.

Owner Toshiyuki Kawai came to Seattle from Osaka 13 years ago for culinary school, then immersed himself in French cooking at Maximilien, Luc, and RN74. He always intended to move to New York and work—cook, wash dishes, anything—for his American chef hero, Thomas Keller. Happily he found Shaun McCrain, then chef at Book Bindery, and was able to train under a Keller alum with a similar sensibility, no plane ticket necessary. 

Kawai fuses his native cuisine with the one he learned with such zeal—“Japanese food is really simple, but French food is so pretty.” The menu’s lone constant is clam chowder, an arrangement of shellfish and smoky bacon in a most delicate broth of miso, soy milk, and a whisper of cream cheese. “I want it to taste like the ocean,” says Kawai. If this is your expectation, rather something dense and Ivar’s-esque, then the cubes of crunchy daikon in place of potatoes come as less of a shock. The companion baguette spread with salty seaweed butter could be a starter in its own right. 

Some entrees—looking at you, carefully caramelized scallops in faint plum broth—skew overly subtle. Which is funny because platings have brio to spare, as in vivid slices of pickled vegetables splayed across a bowl rim like a musical score. Iconiq turned over its most viewcentric real estate to a small back bar that serves casual plates like miso bread pudding, golden on top yet impressively custardy within.

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Chocolate mousse topped with plum sake gelee and rhubarb ribbon.

Still…amuse-bouches? Thomas Keller reverence? Clearly Kawai loves him some fine dining. He also knows what Seattle customers want, and that such things matter a great deal. (He was drawn to the former A La Bonne Franquette space in part for the free street parking, and most dishes top out at $30.) Lately this town has seen a wave of upscale restaurants (Circadia, Vestal, Naka) reconcept casual or suffer a swift shuttering. This restrained dining room offers reassurance that pleasing people needn’t negate ambition.






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