Location: 340 Ward Pkwy (Plaza)
Food: Traditional American cuisine
Service: Traditional waitstaff
Atmosphere: Traditional upscale chain
Price: Apps $6-$12, Entrees $15-$26, Desserts $2.50
Seasons 52, the new restaurant opening in the old Eddie Bauer space on the Plaza, started off on the wrong foot with the people of Kansas City, electing, at first, to remodel some of the exterior of the building to something more contemporary and less Spanish-inspired than the rest of the Plaza’s iconic architecture. Understanding it to be a chain restaurant with several other locations across the country, I was surprised they actually heeded the cry of the annoyed plaza patrons and nixed the alterations.
The event took place at 11:30 last Saturday. We walked in and were immediately greeted by name (impressive), introduced to the managerial staff and handed champagne. I had my camera in tow and they advised that first we would be taken on a champagne tour and picture-taking was, indeed encouraged. Immediate impressions of the space were A) warm and comfortable, B) wholly unsurprising for a chain restaurant serving seasonally-inspired American fare. Reddish-hued wood, typically uninspired fabrics (and particularly tacky animal print-ish bar stool seat covers), but pleasant overall. And I did appreciate the "Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired" touches visible in their use of horizontal wood slats that created modern-looking walls between rooms. Gave the place a little character and needed freshness. The kitchen was moderately exposed, with gleaming stainless steel, white dishes and the lovely scent of a wood-burning grill wafting through the air. A nice touch.
There’s a big bar area to the left upon entering, plenty of seats around it (think Houston’s bar area but with much more space). Then a big dining room to the south of the east of the entrance and a big private room for business meetings (projector and screen built-in for those unlucky enough to get roped into a serious lunch meeting). Seasons 52 is definitely (and smartly) working hard to appeal to the business crowd and for a chain, that makes all the sense in the world. Straight back, behind the entrance and just outside the kitchen is the chef’s table, a private dining area for special reservations.
We started with an amuse bouche (which diners at the Chef’s table will also be served) that I loved: an Asian-style soup spoon filled with a very simple but crafty pop of flavors: pico de gallo with a small flaked piece of trout that smelled of the smoky wood from the wood-burning grill, and a dollop of avocado mousse which our decidedly un-pretentious chef Cliff Pleau admitted to be “guacamole.” The ingredients and combination didn’t surprise me or knock my socks off, but it tasted great.
The sides on this plate ware brussels sprouts – one of my favorite vegetables – and a sweet potato mash. Again, they were lacking as compared to the rest of the food we'd eaten that day. The mash had a little sour cream in it and nothing else. Chef Pleau explained he doesn't believe in making them overly-sweet with things like marshmallows or a sugary topping like so many families do with their sweet potatoes at the holidays – great, me neither – but it was a bit of a cop out to just add some sour cream to smooth them out and then drop 'em on the plate. I'd like to see a chef challenge himself a little more to do something else with them aside from just not doing what everyone else does. They were bland and still a little too sweet. The roasted brussels weren't bad but they, too, were so simply prepared that unfortunately even my own home-cooked version outshone them. What really makes brussels sprouts special is when they get charred and have that extra depth of flavor added to their naturally earthy, peppery taste. Chef's comment was that everyone's mother overcooked brussels sprouts and ruined them for us when we were young. I don't think he did much better with them. They weren't overcooked, but left a lot to be desired. Overall, the food on this particular plate just wasn't of a high enough restaurant quality to make me want to order it on a return trip.
Overall, lasting impressions: Seasons 52 is a chain restaurant that doesn't run from being one. It capitalizes on accepting that fact. I think they know they're catering a little more to a business and out-of-town crowd than the locals. I appreciate the healthy menu selections and found a lot of what I ate to be quite good. It's not the type of place I look forward to visiting, personally, but I can't knock it for doing what it does. It'll probably do just fine. And I appreciated the free meal. Thanks for the preview, Seasons 52.
Rating: TBD (I don't rate special events like this as I feel it's not a true representation of the typical diner's experience. Perhaps sometime in the future on my own dime.)