Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Seasons 52: Fresh and Healthy Can Be Delicious

Seasons 52, a fresh grill and wine bar, opened earlier this month in the South Coast Plaza shopping center in Costa Mesa. The name doubly reflects seasonally inspired cooking both with the word seasons and 52, the number of weeks per year. The restaurant eschews butter in all of its dishes and nothing on the menu is more than 475 calories, including lamb chops and chocolate desserts.

South Coast Plaza is the first California location for the Orlando based organization, although Seasons 52 does not have the feel of a chain. Perhaps because both the Executive Chef Tim Kast and General Manager Rikin Lakhani have been made partners in this location, to literally invest them with a sense of ownership in the operation.

I was recently invited to check out the restaurant and try some of their signature items.  I must confess I was skeptical of the concept.  The use of fresh seasonal ingredients and cooking is something I am a fan of.  But the sticking point for me was all dishes having fewer than 475 calories.  I was pleasantly surprised to be proven wrong and didn’t even miss the butter.

The room is outfitted in a mixture of stone and dark woods in a modified Craftsman style and there is an open kitchen to highlight the fresh cooking.  There is also a large bar area featuring dozens of West Coast wines and an outdoor patio with two firepits.

As part of the commitment to healthy but flavorful food, Seasons 52 only serves fish that can be grilled.  Fish such as Chilean Sea Bass which have been overfished and are threatened are not featured on the menu.  They don’t even have a fryer on the premises.  I sampled Cedar Plank Roasted Salmon ($18.95) which had been grilled on cedar planks from Washington State that had been soaked in water for 24 hours.  The plank had a great fragrant smell and imbued the fish with that charred wood essence.  The salmon had a dressing of mustard and malt vinegar and wasn’t overly fishy.

I next tried the Organic Green Salad with Oak Grilled Mushrooms and Truffle Dressing.  The presentation of this dish was dramatic in that the salad arrives in a cylinder on the plate which is removed tableside.  The dressing only included miso, lemon juice, white truffle oil, olive oil and soy, in equal portions.  All greens served at Seasons 52 are organic, befitting the natural and healthy concept.

The Sonoma Goat Cheese Raviolo ($8.95) (yes, it is one large ravioli despite being listed as ravioli on the menu) is served with a tomato broth and several cherry halved tomatoes.  It is a rich dish and tastes much more decadent than it really is.  The food may be prepared healthily and to below 475 calories but this is not diet food – no unadorned salads or grilled vegetables but rather tasty grilled and roasted food that happens to be good for you.

The Roasted Rack of New Zealand Lamb ($26.95) was my last savory course and it was a hearty sendoff.  Served with a mint pesto and cooked to a beautiful medium rare this is a dish for meat eaters.

Finally the meal was finished up with “Mini Indulgences”, which are individual sized servings of classic desserts such as Key Lime Pie, Chocolate Cake etc.  No, I did not eat all of the desserts in the picture; thankfully the tray was for a group.  I tried several and found the chocolate one particularly irresistible.  Serving dessert in shotglass-like serving dishes was a creative way to deliver lots of flavor without going overboard on portion size or calories in the dessert.  They are $2.75 each.

Overall Seasons 52 is a refreshing addition to the Central Orange County dining scene, not only for providing a healthy but tasty option but also at an attractive price point.  The biggest bonus to Seasons 52 is the wine bar and wine list of 100 wines, 60 of which are available by the glass, something that really stands out in the area and is distinctive in Southern California.

Seasons 52: South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa.  Phone: (714) 437-5252  Website: seasons52.com

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