With that out of the way, I will say this first experience of mine at Seasons 52 was delightful and elevated my level of expectation for chain restaurants in the United States, and shows that fine dining can be found at any location, be it a big city with a thriving “foodie” culture or a suburban mall. And it’s an extra benefit when that fine dining can come with a healthy eating theme and motivation, as is offered at Seasons 52. The location I dined at was the Seasons 52 at the Cherry Hill Mall in New Jersey, which is a very popular location with lots of national restaurant chains on or near the premises.
Seasons 52 describes itself as “change restaurant”, in fact, not a chain. There is a strong emphasis at Seasons 52 on healthy dining choices, reducing fat and calories by employing grilling and brick-oven cooking techniques as well as utilizing seasonally fresh ingredients. Indeed, every item on the menu is promised to be less than 475 calories while not sacrificing flavor and satisfaction. I had previously been somewhat skeptical in how well they would be able to meet that goal, but was happily surprised to find that in most cases indeed there was nothing that felt “restricted” or like “diet food” from what I tasted.
The Spring menu we were able to sample was expertly paired in each course with an appropriately matched wine or cocktail. A refreshing Strawberry Kir Royal, featuring Zardetto Prosecco and organic vodka, made for a delightful aperitif. It was served along with three new appetizers on the menu: Ripe Plum Tomato Flatbread, Artichoke & Goat Cheese Flatbread, and Artichoke-Stuffed Artichoke Leaves. Of the three, my favorite was the Artichoke & Goat Cheese Flatbread, which was nicely tart and crispy. A drizzle of balsamic sauce and roasted red peppers added a sweet note as well but were not overpowering. The Tomato Flatbread was tasty but I had to proceed cautiously as it contained a fair amount of roasted garlic – and could have set off my garlic intolerance. The stuffed artichoke leaves were fun little bites, certainly a more health-conscious appetizer than the ever-popular Artichoke & Cheese Dip served at many other restaurants. Although we only had the bites by themselves, for the regular menu they will be served with a small arugula salad, balsamic and Parmesan cheese. The choice of a tangy cocktail to go with these appetizers was perfect, as artichokes can affect the taste perception of wine and make them seemingly taste sweeter.
The next course was Tomato & Hass Avocado Salad, paired with the lovely crisp Aveleda Vinho Verde from Portugal. I have recently become quite fond of Vinho Verde wines when I want a white that is light and refreshing, low alcohol, and a little more interesting than a simple Pinot Grigio. If you haven’t tried Vinho Verde yet, this is a good one with which to start. This salad features organic arugula, tomatoes and Hass avocados with a balsamic glaze and served with grilled bruschetta toast.
I will say that while tasty, this salad as we were presented it (which had much more arugula and less tomato/avocado than in the officially pictured version) ended up being a bit wet and overdressed in mine and some other diners’ voiced opinions. Perhaps some balancing of the ingredients and the olive oil/red wine dressing applied is in order to get this one just right. Part of the problem may be the way the soft outer flesh of the avocado rubs off and becomes part of the salad dressing, so less oil and vinegar should be added.
There are three new entree selections for Spring and we were able to enjoy them all served “family style” this evening. As such their presentation each differed quite a bit from how they are supposed to be served individually, therefore I am including both the “official” press photo versions along with my “family style” photos. The first entree was Columbia River Steelhead Trout, served with Spring vegetables, basmati rice and a lemongrass sauce. This was paired with a Botani Moscatel white wine from Sierras de Malaga, which was the only wine of the night I didn’t care for; it was a little strong and sweet for the delicate, subtle flavor of the trout. I could almost see this dish served with a French or California Pinot Noir instead for those (like me) who prefer red wines – or perhaps an Italian Vermentino or Verdicchio for a white.
Those who enjoy salmon should like this dish, and Steelhead is a very nice variety of trout with some of that meaty taste of salmon. I liked the yellow and red cherry tomatoes served with this dish, and I’m not normally a cherry tomato fan.
Next were some wonderful Lamb T-Bone chops served with asparagus and truffled mashed potatoes, finished with a red wine glaze. The lamb chops were cooked perfectly – well-seared yet nicely red (but not undercooked) in the middle. I imagine when ordered individually you would be able to specify your requested doneness for the lamb. The chops’ seasoning was nicely done, with a touch of lavender for aroma. The lamb went superbly with the Allegrini Palazzo della Torre Corvina Veronese, a wonderful smooth red wine I was already familiar with and have enjoyed in the past. In fact it reminded me that I should pick up a few bottles of this wine for my home collection…
This was a dish I would certainly order again in the future at Seasons 52 as I’m a sucker for a really nice lamb dish (and I don’t cook it much at home as my partner doesn’t like lamb.) I asked the chef at the end of the meal where the lamb is sourced from, and he said they are from a farm in Colorado. Previously Seasons 52 used lamb from New Zealand, but has found domestic lamb to be much “bigger” and better suited for this style of preparation. I have to agree.
As a vegetarian option, the third entree was Spicy Snow Peas & Shitake Mushrooms with roasted almonds. The sweet and spicy glaze was addictive and the dish served with a pleasant Lioco Indica Rose from Mendocino. I love rose wine that is not overly sweet but more on the dry side, and this one was a perfect fit for this Asian-style vegetable dish.
I loved how fresh and crispy the snow peas were and I would certainly recommend this dish to any vegetarians dining at Seasons 52. It reminded me of a stir-fry I regularly made at home with shitake mushrooms and snow peas, so it’s a very classic combination just amplified a bit with the spicy glaze and crunchy almonds. Of course, part of me would certainly crave this dish served with a side of rice, but that probably wouldn’t fit in with Seasons 52’s calorie restrictions per course. Could perhaps brown rice be offered as a side dish, or the lovely Basmati rice that came with the trout? I was able to enjoy quite a healthy portion of this dish as some of the other diners that evening were already too full, and/or stuck with the more “carnivorous” offerings on the table.
Of course, no meal at Seasons 52 would be complete without one (or more) of their “Mini Indulgences”. These signature petite desserts are just right for satisfying the sweet tooth without weighing you down, or sending you into sugar overload. Some of the popular selections include Key Lime Pie, Chocolate Peanut Butter Mousse, Mocha Macchiato, and Pecan Pie with Chocolate Mouse. I tried the Mango-Raspberry Cheesecake and the Old-Fashioned Carrot Cake, which was a particularly delightful surprise. As these desserts are only $2.50 each on the regular menu, it’s great to try a few to share with a date. We were able to enjoy our desserts with the Selbach-Oster Bernkasteler Badstube Riesling, a sweet white wine that worked well with just about any of the desserts offered.
All in all, I greatly enjoyed this chance to try so many dishes from Seasons 52 as featured on their new spring menu. I would certainly go back again to dine at the restaurant in the future, and it will go on my list of “chains to look out for” when I’m traveling as I know I’ll be able to enjoy a good – and healthy – meal. Right now Seasons 52 has locations in 12 states including New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Florida, Georgia, Texas and Virginia. New locations are planned for opening throughout the country, so be sure to visit the Seasons 52 website to learn more and check your area!