Monday, February 04, 2013

Seasons 52 Fresh Grill -- Slick, Tasty, and Lean

Deep in the throes of the ongoing kitchen remodel, I didn’t expect to find myself tucking away deliciously seasoned strip steak and quail, but there I was last Tuesday. I received a fortuitous invite to a “media wine dinner” at Seasons 52, a soon-to-be-opened restaurant on Edwards Road just across the street from Rookwood Commons. Seasons 52 is an upscale casual dining restaurant based around a “fresh grill and wine bar” concept. I was joined by a collection of other friendly media types from the area, including a TV producer, a couple of Enquirer editors, and Nedra – better known as local blogger “Adventure Mom.” 

We had a quick tour of the contemporarily decorated restaurant before the meal began. Seasons 52’s distinguishing architectural feature is the stone split-face mosaic walls which closely resembled one area of our kitchen-to-be. The restaurant had lots of mahogany, warm lighting, and high ceilings throughout. The patio (which will look much better when it doesn’t open onto a construction site) and several private dining rooms available for meetings, receptions, etc.

The open kitchen was interesting to me because of what wasn’t there. There’s no fryer. I learned no butter is used in the preparations. The hook of Seasons 52 is that no item on the menu, including desserts, contains more than 475 calories. The menu changes seasonally and leans heavily on mesquite grilling, brick oven cooking, and caramelizing. I asked about the portion sizes at one point. Most entrees apparently run 6-8 ounces of protein plus a vegetable and a starch. I wondered how an 11 oz. steak could be that calorically miniscule. The answer, apparently, is a particularly lean stock of Piedmontese bovine.

Would you buy a wine pairing from this man?
(Short answer: Yes.)
Our tour ended at the long piano bar where different live musicians play 7 days a week. Our pianist for the evening played an eclectic mix. (I’ll admit I’ve never heard Weezer’s “Sweater Song” done quite that way.) At the bar, we met George Miliotes, our emcee for the evening. The affable Miliotes (one of the world’s 180 Master Sommeliers, apparently) started us with a glass of Chartogne-Taillet Champagne to go alongside samples of a pair of appetizer flatbreads – one an artichoke and goat cheese, the other chipotle shrimp with roasted poblanos and feta. I enjoyed both as Miliotes gave us some background on the restaurant and introed the wine list, which includes 65 wines available by the glass – any of which are also available as a 1 oz. sample for experimentation purposes.

After a few minutes of get-to-know-you and bubbly, we adjourned to our table where we met Clifford Pleau, Season 52’s executive chef. He and Miliotes have worked together for the last 20 years, as some of their banter indicated. We wasted little time getting to the meal itself.

We started with a crab and avocado amuse bouche – which reminded me of a crab quesadilla, minus the tortilla. A Vinho Verde alongside served as a nicely crisp aperitif.

From there came a cedar plank roasted salmon filet with a grilled sea scallop skewered on a stalk of lemongrass. The salmon was fresh, moist, and flavorful. The scallop was divine. The wine pairing was a medium-oak Central Coast California chardonnay, which played off the seafood and the grill char.
Cedar plank salmon.
Next up, the salad course. The salad, comprised of organic field greens, grilled mushrooms, toasted pistachios, and truffle dressing was served (as are most of their salads) in plastic tubes and shaken out on the plates to present more aromatics from the dressing. Truffles. Yum. I wouldn’t have thought Carneros pinot noir with a salad course ordinarily, but with truffles? Why the heck not!

From there, we had goat cheese ravioli, roasted garlic, and shredded basil in an organic tomato broth. My ravioli might have been a bit undercooked, as it had soaked up much of the broth by the time the plate arrived and was still a little bit dry. Still very flavorful. The wine pairing here was a Cabernet Franc from Bordeaux. It was a very solid choice, but I would have leaned towards a light Italian red as is my usual preference with such flavors.

The “main” course was a mixed grill of Piedmontese strip steak and Manchester Farms quail, mashed sweet potatoes, and red wine sauce. For me, this was the highlight of the meal. The strip steak was done a delicious medium rare and had no fat that I could see. The quail took a little surgery to get at the tender, scrumptiously seasoned meat, but it was worth it. We had two wine pairings here – a Cabernet blend from South Africa, which was quite tasty, and a Spanish Garnacha, which was full and almost creamy. The Garnacha was an especially enjoyable pairing.

We finished up with “mini indulgences.” These are small desserts served in square “cordial style” glasses. At the end of a big meal like that, however, I usually don’t want more than a few bites of something sweet. I went with the key lime pie. Other options included carrot cake, pecan pie, rocky road, chocolate peanut butter mousse and various others. The dessert wine, a luscious German Riesling Auslese, was dee-lish.
The "mini-indulgences"
Now, I fully understand our little media gaggle was getting a special preview of this establishment, so I expected everything to be really good. It was. For this type of restaurant, I would heartily endorse it for the flavors alone. However, I had one major unanswered question –cost. The restaurant website ( lists the complete food and wine menu without prices. I’m normally of the “if there’s no price listed, you don’t want to know” school.  Kelly McMillan, field manager of the Cincinnati location, was happy to provide the local menu.

You know what? It ain’t overly painful. Wines by the glass range from $6.50 to $18. (The most expensive we had was the Champagne, which would have been $14.) The flatbreads were $8-10 for a generous size. Small salads run $6-9, while entrée salads were $12-16. The most expensive item on the menu was a bone-in strip steak at $28. The “mini indulgences” are $2.50 each. Not cheap, but less expensive than I expected.

The Cincinnati location opens today, Monday, February 4. I’d say it’s certainly worth a try if you’re a fan of restaurants like P.F. Chang’s, J.Alexanders, and other upscale casual options.

For a different (and more photographic!) view of the evening, here's Adventure Mom's review.

[Seasons 52 is part of the Darden group of restaurants, which also includes the Capital Grille, Bahama Breeze, LongHorn, the Yard House, Eddie V’s, Olive Garden, and (believe it or not) Red Lobster.]


Pama Mitchell said...

Wow, how fortunate for you to get that invitation. I guess my blog is too obscure to get their attention. But I've eaten at Seasons 52 in Atlanta and Chicago & am thrilled that we're getting a branch here.

The Naked Vine said...

Hey there, Pama! I have no idea how they picked me. My guess is that they threw all of we Cincy food and wine folk in a hat and picked one at random. I'm not surprised that you like them. :-)

Pama Mitchell said...

Well, I'd have loved to attend.
Meanwhile, I like your blog and it's on my "blog roll." Wine is one of my favorite things....