Friday, August 30, 2013

Seasons 52 Fresh Grill & Wine Bar: Healthy & Wine-centric

Burlington is becoming an attractive destination for restaurant chains, from Capital Grille to Bobby's Burger Palace. In the near future, places such as Bonefish Grill and Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steak House will open there. To me, chains can be a mixed bag, some which are good and others which offer bountiful portions of mediocre food. The latest chain restaurant to open in Burlington, having opened only yesterday, is Seasons 52, a "fresh grill and wine bar." Earlier this week, I attended a pre-opening media dinner and got a sneak peek at what is coming. And then I stopped by yesterday to check out their lunch.

Located on the second floor of the former Borders Book Store, in the Wayside Commons shopping complex, there is ample parking as well as valet service. Seasons 52 currently has about 32 locations, scattered across the country, and emphasizes a seasonal and healthy menu, with no item, from appetizers to entrees, having more than 475 calories. In addition, they have a specially curated wine list, of about 100 selections, with around 60 available by the glass. The healthy concept, with wine, sounds like an interesting concept but is it executed well? Is Seasons 52 one of those mediocre chains or not? In short, they have started out well and show much potential.

Before dinner, I got a tour of the restaurant and it certainly looks nothing like the former Borders. The decor is elegant and sophisticated, almost resembling some of the higher-end steakhouses. It seats around 300 people, including the main dining area, the piano bar, outside patio and four meeting rooms. The bar is good-sized and every night they have a piano playing there, while the four meeting rooms are appropriate for everything from business conferences to wedding parties. We dined in one of the private rooms, the Sonoma Room, and the sound of the piano can still be heard there.

The kitchen is open and there is also a brick oven, which helps them prepare healthier dishes. I've always liked the idea of an open kitchen as I think it is a sign of confidence in the cooks.

There is a private Chef's Table, for roughly eight people, and you can reserve it for a minimum spending amount, varying dependent on the day. If the room is not previously reserved, a group who comes in may luck out andbe  able to sit here. There is a special Chef's Table Menu too for this room.

Near the entrance of the restaurant is their glassed-in Wine Chateau, where they store around 2000 wines. As they lack any basement storage for their wines, the wines are stored in the Chateau as well as throughout the restaurant.

Within the Chateau, they also are infusing organic vodka with oranges, and will create additional infusions in the future. The fruit will sit within the vodka for about a week.

Our hosts for the evening included George Miliotes, Master Sommelier (on the left), Chef Stefan Jarausch, Executive Chef Partner (in the middle), and Sean Wiseman, Managing Partner (on the right). Chef Jarausch, who is German born, most recently worked at Oak Long Bar & Kitchen at Fairmont Copley. They did a fine job of welcoming us to the restaurant, explaining the food and wine during our dinner, and answering all of our questions.

The restaurant is open for both lunch and dinner, with no item has more than 475 calories, making the restaurant a good choice for the weight conscious. One way they help keep calories down is by not using butter at all. They do not even stock butter in their kitchen. Besides their regular menus, they also have special dietary menus including: Lactose-Free, Low Sodium, Gluten-Free, Garlic-Free, Vegetarian and Vegan.

For Lunch, you'll find Flatbreads, Salads, Soft Tacos, Sandwiches, Burgers and Entrees, all priced from around $6-$20. Try a Red Mole Braised Beef Soft Taco with jalapeño-lime slaw, guacamole, and pickled red onion ($9.75) or a Grilled Boneless Rainbow Trout with baby carrots, parsley roasted potatoes, & grilled lemon ($16.95). The Dinner Menu omits the sandwiches, burgers & tacos, adding more entrees, topping out price-wise at $26.95. You will also find a number of seasonal specials available with each menu.

Though wine-centric, the restaurant has a complete bar, and carries plenty of beers, liquors and cocktails (roughly priced $11-$14). George Miliotes, their Master Sommelier, has personally selected all of the wines on the list for all of the Seasons 52 restaurants. The wine list has about 100 selections, 60 available by the glass, and about half the list costs $50 or under per bottle. The wine list rarely changes, and George has made long term relationships with a number of the wineries and some wines are even produced just for Seasons 52. George stated that as the restaurant is partially about "discovery," so is the wine list and the staff will gladly let you taste their wines prior to your purchases.

The wine list has some of the usual suspects, but there is some interesting diversity on the list as well. For example, they carry 6 Sparkling Wines, including a Prosecco, Cava and two California wines. Their two Champagnes are actually both from Growers, which is something you don't see too often at restaurants. My only concern with the list is with its pricing. It is seemingly priced on a sliding scale of sorts, with the less expensive wines having the highest markup, which can be 3X+ their usual retail price. If I can buy a wine at my local wine shop for $8-$10, I don't want to pay $34 for it at a restaurant. The higher-end wines more often are priced around 2X their usual retail, making them a better buy.

They offer a special, Flights & Flatbreads, with two flights of three wines, one white and the other red, for $15 and you also get your choice of a Flatbread. There is a third flight, of three red wines, for $20, which also gives you your choice of a Flatbread. You get 2 ounces pours of the three wines, and then you get an additional 6 ounce glass of the wine you want from those three. In essence, you are getting two glasses of wine. At the usual price, the $15 flights might cost you as much as $28 separately, so it is a good value.

Prior to sitting down for our dinner, we sipped some NV Chartogne-Taillet Cuvee Sainte Anne Champagne, a fine Grower Champagne with lots of flavor and character. A delightful melange of fruit, good acidity, a hint of smokiness and mild floral notes. It is also very fairly priced on their wine list. With our bubbly, we enjoyed slices of a couple Flatbreads, including a Trio of Roasted Mushrooms and a Chipotle Shrimp. The Chipotle was made with roasted poblanos, grilled pineapple, feta cheese, shrimp and a spicy chipotle sauce. The flatbreads are thin and crisp, and the ingredients made for a harmonious and tasty blend.

Once we sat, our evening began with an amuse-bouche, a spoonful of Lump Crab, Haas avocado and some pico de gallo. A nice little bite, and the fresh, crisp pico de gallo gave a nice boost to this dish. With this amuse, we enjoyed the 2011 Aveleda Vinho Verde, a Portuguese wine with a pleasant crisp taste of apples and a little effervescence. A simple but refreshing wine, perfect for the summer.

Next up was a Cedar Plank Salmon and Lemongrass Sea Scallop, with carrot, asparagus and a pepper. The scallops were from New England and the salmon was from a farm in Canada, though they stated they use wild salmon in season. The seafood was cooked well, with a nice sear on the scallop and the veggies were crisp. This is the type of light dish which is both tasty and filling. This was paired with the 2010 Mer Soleil Chardonnay, from the Central Coast of California, though the oak influence was too prominent for my own preferences, but others at the dinner enjoyed it.

A Baby Spinach Salad, made with Subarashii Kudamono pears, toasted pine nuts, and crumbled Gorgonzola cheese was lightly topped with a white balsamic vinaigrette. Though I am not a spinach guy, the rest of the salad was pleasant, the pears and Gorgonzola making a fine pairing. Our wine for this course was the 2012 Casillero del Diablo Viognier, from Chile, which was aromatic though not perfumy, with a nice taste of citrus, apricot and hints of spice. A good choice.

One of my favorite courses was the Sonoma Goat Cheese Ravioli with harvest vegetables, black mushrooms, and an apple cider & roasted onion jus. The pasta was cooked perfectly, and the creamy filling, complemented by the compelling sauce, was decadently delicious. This is a dish I would order again and highly recommend. The veggies were crisp, making a nice contrast to the creaminess of the ravioli.

Our wine was for this course was the 2009 Retromarcia Chianti Classic, a more Old World style wine made from 100% Sangiovese. High in acidity, it had plenty of dark, dusty fruit with only a mere hint of earthiness. It is a relatively simple but pleasant wine, made to go with food. This is my preferred style of Chianti Classico so I enjoyed the wine.

We ended our savory courses with an Oak-Grilled Filet Mignon (with a red wine demi-glaze) & Roasted Manchester Farms Quail (stuffed with wild mushroom risotto). They were accompanied by Yukon Gold mashed potatoes made with sour cream (and no butter!). The filet was tender with a nice outer char while the quail was moist and tender with plenty of meat. The potatoes were very good too, and didn't need any butter. For meat-lovers, either of these two meats would please you.

We enjoyed two wines with this dish, the 2009 Alto Moncayo Garnacha and the 2009 De Toren Z. The Moncayo, a Spanish wine made from old vine Garnacha, was superb, with plenty of complexity, deep, concentrated black fruit flavors, a spice melange and a lengthy finish. A real stunner, that went very well with the filet. The Toren, a South African Bordeaux-style blend, was also quite good, more Old World in style than New, with plenty of complexity, a nice balance, and lots of flavor, from red fruit to leather. It also went well with this dish.

For Dessert, they offer a variety of Mini Indulgences ($2.50 each), individual shot glasses filled with a variety of class desserts, including Pecan Pie with vanilla mousse, Carrot Cake, Chocolate Peanut Butter Mousse, Key Lime Pie, Mocha Macchiato, Summer Berry Cheesecake, Belgian Chocolate Rocky Road, Raspberry Chocolate Chip Cannoli and Market Fresh Fruit. These are small sweets to satisfyingly end the evening, rather than massive desserts to bloat you. I very much enjoyed the Pecan Pie, with its crunchy, sweet pecans and creamy mousse. Many of the others were also popular with the others at dinner, though the fresh fruit seemed to be largely ignored for the sweets. I enjoyed the Pecan Pie so much that I had it again after lunch.

With dessert, we had a glass of the 2010 Selbach-Oster Bernkasteler Badstube Riesling Auslese, a German dessert wine that was mildly sweet, with good acidity and pleasant citrus flavors. Another nice pairing with the sweet desserts.

Yesterday, at lunch, I decided to start with a Side of Tamale Tots ($2.75) because they are...Tots. Who can resist Tots? They are made from the masa used to make tamales, covered in panko and accompanied by a red mole & chili sour cream. The tots possessed a firmer & creamier texture than the usual tots, almost like mashed potatoes, and a nice crunchiness from the panko. They had an interesting flavor, with notes of corn, and the red mole added some spicy sweetness to the tots. Though I would have enjoyed an even spicier mole, this was an excellent side and I like their take on tots.

There are three Burgers on their lunch menu but none of them are made from hamburger. Rather, you will find turkey, tuna and buffalo. I opted for the Rocky Mountain Buffalo Burger ($9.75) which comes topped by blue cheese and has a side of pickles, tomato, lettuce and truffle sauce. It also comes on a sesame seed ciabatta roll. Buffalo is a leaner meat, and usually tastes so similar to beef that people rarely realize the difference. This was a very good burger, moist enough, and the blue cheese added an excellent tang to the taste. The roll had some of the firmness of ciabatta and it held up well with the burger, not getting soggy in the least.

With the burger, I ordered another Side, the Roasted Idaho Potato Wedges ($2.75) with a truffle sauce & tamarind BBQ sauce. These were ok but might have been a bit overcooked, though I liked the tamarind BBQ sauce. Stick with the Tots.

Service at the media dinner was excellent as expected. At lunch, my server Gustavo also did an excellent job, and seemed well trained. He was personable and accommodating, and I had no service issues. They seemed to have a large service staff, ready to accommodate a full restaurant.

Overall, I find much to like about Seasons 52, from its focus on wine and healthy food, to its tasty dishes and diverse wine selections. Pricing of the food seems reasonable, though wine pricing on their less expensive bottles is too high, partially balanced by their more reasonable markups on their higher end wines. This is one of the better chains and is a welcome addition to the Burlington area. If you are seeking a healthier dining alternative, this is a good option, and their food is delicious enough that it will appeal to even those much less concerned about eating healthy.

Have you dined at any of the other Season 52 restaurants? What are your thoughts?

Seasons 52 on Urbanspoon


bark collar said...

Hi Richard, nice post and photos, I like it

Anonymous said...

I like the concept of calorie control - I need the restaurant to do it because I can't help myself. Great post, I haven't been or heard of them but I'm happy to hear they have one in Plano which I will be checking out. Interesting note about the wine pricing, I wonder if that happens more often then not. Also, I'm a fan of the small desserts. I often want something sweet when I'm out but don't want to commit to a 600 calorie slice of cake. Great post, thanks for sharing your experience!

Wining Ways said...

Thanks for the great review and pics Richard. Made me want to check it out. Sounds like a refreshing difference from most chains.