We decided to go to a new restaurant, Seasons52. It’s a new concept to me: a place where the menu proudly states that no entrée is more than 475 calories. There are no ‘endless bread sticks’ or huge portions dripping in butter. The portions are small compared to most chain restaurants, the food carefully prepared to bring out the natural flavors, and the ingredients seem high quality. It is minimalist, portion-controlled, and a much healthier choice than the majority of the restaurants in the area.
Maybe that’s why it was a 2-hour wait to get a table. The place was packed. While the ‘value proposition’ of the place goes against the grain of competing restaurants offering huge portions, perhaps there’s a niche for a place that serves artfully prepared but unpretentious food in adequate portions. It’s an European sensibility applied to food that I would call ‘American’.
The menu makes little attempt to define their food as derived from any ethnic cuisine. Some restaurants have entrees that seem as if they are representing the United Nations, with Italian entries next to Asian entrees next to Mexican entrees – all bearing little resemblance to the authentic cuisines they steal from. At Seasons52, the food is uniquely theirs. I give them credit: it’s a bold move to become the anti-Cheesecake Factory – and I’m sure that – with one not far down the road – many people – having tried this place, never come back because for the same price you get way more food at The Cheesecake Factory.
But for people who don’t need to equate the quality of the dining experience with the volume of food nor the number of ingredients, Seasons52 might be worth a try.
The first thing you notice is that there is no free bread at the table. Instead, they sell different varieties of flatbreads as appetizers, baked with a selection of toppings. We ordered a lobster and mozzarella flatbread and a long, thin bread, topped with not only lobster and mozzarella, but basil and diced peppers and squirted with a bit of lemon arrived on a long, flat board designed just for this dish. The long rectangle was cut into 8 triangular pieces and we each got two. They were delicious, with none of the flavors overpowering the others.
When we were done we wanted more – but isn’t that the long-forgotten point of an appetizer? Americans have become accustomed to going to a restaurant, filling up on bread, sharing a big appetizer, then forcing down what many times ends up being a mediocre entree.
The entrees were consistent in philosophy and execution as the appetizer. We each had ordered different ones: I had a cut of roast salmon on a cedar plank with a creamy mustard sauce and the root vegetables potatoes and carrots – not a lot in terms of portion-size, but all the ingredients clearly were high quality and did not need to be tarted up with sauces and unnecessary spices. I very much enjoyed my salmon dish and was satisfied without being stuffed.
My wife had the carmelized scallops which came on a bed of roasted crushed potatoes with some small amount of vegetable mixed in. I had a bite of the scallop and they did a wonderful job of adding just the right touch of sweetness without overpowering the taste or ruining the texture of the scallop – a delicate balancing act done successfully.
My older daughter had a pork chop with some sweet potato mash. Again the same sensibility. I did not try this, but both my daughter and wife remarked how tender and flavorful the meat was.
My youngest daughter had the pasta. Again – the same sensibility. Instead of piling on the cheap pasta and throwing shrimp in top then drowning it in sauce, the pasta complemented the shrimp in roughly equal proportions, with fresh spinach added and a light sauce that didn’t steal from any cuisine but came straight from the restaurant’s own esthetic.
My older daughter, who is long and lean as well as a lacrosse player, can tuck away quite a volume of food, yet at the end of the meal announced she was stuffed. I imagined that very few ‘doggie bags’ were carried out of this place. To me, a ‘more-is-better’ type of person (the reason I’m fat), they executed the ‘less-is-more’ approach to food flawlessly.
But we weren’t done yet.
Their execution of the ‘dessert menu’ is again sensible – and shrewd.
We were stuffed – remember? They do not ask you if you want to see a dessert menu – instead they bring over a tray of desserts – each in a small glass – dessert flights as they are called. Each is a tiny taste of decadence that won’t make anyone feel guilty about having dessert. The shrewd part is that: the dessert is *there*. They bring it to you without you asking for it, entice you with the actual dessert and not a picture, and if you want one they take it off the tray and give it to you. Immediate gratification after putting the damn thing right under your nose.
Our reservation was after 9pm it was late by then and the kids were fading fast, but were roused by the dessert. While I skipped it, the three of them took one. I had a taste of two of them. Again, well done, with flavors that complemented rather than competed. My wife got one with a tiny squeeze tube of amaretto so you could apply just a few drops to heighten the experience.
Seasons52 is food crafted with the precision of a Mars mission. It is novel approach for an American chain restaurant. When ‘healthy’ food is served at restaurants it usually flops – or is done as a sneaky psychological ruse. In fact, many chains put healthy items on the menu knowing full well that it lures customers in – who then order the high-calorie decadent stuff next to it. Others put faux healthy items on their menu – usually salads – then pack so many calories into the thing that your perceived sense of restraint was instead a sneaky con job by the restaurant.
Here the food is honest, minimalist, and fulfilling. It’s a fine dining experience in a relaxed atmosphere with beautiful woodwork throughout the space – yet it avoids pretension. As I stated before, this is the anti-Cheesecake Factory down to the decor – The Cheesecake Factory having the most overwrought, overstated, and garish decor and architecture that screams everything but good taste.
Seasons52 only has about 42 locations so far in the US, but if you have the opportunity to try it out – and don’t feel like you are somehow being cheated by not getting ‘endless breadsticks’ or huge portions, it’s worth a try.