Feb 4, 2012

Seasons 52 Winter Menu

Restaurant: Seasons 52
Location: 340 Ward Pkwy, Plaza
Food: American, healthy bent
Service: Traditional Waitstff
Atmosphere: Biz Casual Dining
Price: Apps
Rating: two napkins

The kind folks at O'Neill Events and Seasons 52 invited me back recently to try their winter menu (*free food alert! My whole meal was comped). I apreciated the offer and gladly accepted, wanting to experience the restaurant on a normal night with other patrons filling the place.

When we arrived for our 7:00 Friday night reservation, the restaurant was packed. The bar/lounge on the West end of the space was filled with a crowd of well-to-do looking people, warm and smiling, enjoying a glass of wine before their food. A woman played piano and sang... pleasantly, for the most part.

We were quickly seated in a booth in the main dining room which was almost entirely full, buzzing with conversation, clinking of glasses and forks on plates... the kind of commotion in which I like to be enveloped when eating out.

The invite explained the highlights to of the new menu:
"From hearty root vegetables such as butternut squash and golden beets, to delectable fruits such as grapefruit and pear, Seasons 52’s winter menu is full of refined flavors. By utilizing natural cooking techniques, such as wood-fire grilling, brick-oven cooking and roasting, winter’s freshest produce shines on the new menu in memorable dishes that enable diners to celebrate living well."

Because this was a free meal, we felt like the restaurant would probably want to feature the bright points so we started the affair by asking for our server's recommendation, which was the best thing we could have done.

She started us with the Spicy Chipotle Shrimp Flatbread. They specialize in these things at S52 but, admittedly, I'm always skeptical of flatbread. It usually comes off like wannabe pizza. Filler. What you normally get is a piece of flat, dry, stale toast with some Parmesan and herbs. Maybe a veggie or two, but that's it.

Not the case here. What struck me was that this one had such a fun combination of flavors! Flatbread usually makes me want pizza. This basically was a pizza. Studded with pineapple, roasted poblano pepper, feta cheese and succulent, plump shrimp, then drizzled with chipotle sauce and garnished with cilantro, it almost had the flavor of tacos al pastor sub seafood for pork. It had me thinking and feeling Baja, which is a good thing.

Our other appetizer selection was the Ahi tuna. And whereas the flatbread was so well-engineered, the tuna was appropriately simple. They set before us a rectangular plate of five beautiful, deeply colored, rare slices of tuna, barely seared on the outside and garnished with typical sushi accoutrements (plus wildly unnecessary multi-grain crackers which I ignored). It was exactly what I'd wanted. Cold, fresh, delicious.

For entrees, we honed in on the Specials and kept the seafood theme alive. First, I had the swordfish. It's a pretty solid bet, swordfish is. Probably won't knock your socks off, but it's a predictable, meaty steak of a fish that won't leave you hungry. Seasons 52's preparation is a grilled steak resting atop a tiny bed of shrimp risotto. Keeping all menu items under 475 calories, the risotto was less than plentiful, as I expected. But it added just enough starch to serve its purpose. I would've liked more, but certainly didn't need it.

To call the rice risotto was a bit of a stretch, though. I'm not even sure it was made with arborio rice. Seemed more like regular short grain rice with a lot of creamy substance in it. But, again, it was nothing to complain about.

Around the outside of my dish were steamed veggies which caused me to think: I could have made these at home. But that simple fact notwithstanding, they were steamed nicely which is to say al dente. Not overdone.

The fruity sauce atop the fish served its purpose of lubricating that thick piece of grilled fish. I have misgivings about the sauces at Seasons 52... no butter, no cream... what's in them? But I can't say there was anything bad or wrong with it. It was just suspiciously healthy tasting, I suppose. And that's what the whole plate can be characterized as. Adequate, but suspiciously healthy.

On the side, we got a small plate of the shrimp, lump crab and spinach-stuffed mushrooms. After eating one, let's just say they were ambitiously entitled. They were spinach and Parmesan mushrooms with a light contribution of shellfish. Hardly enough to bare mentioning, in reality. And a stuffed mushroom is a fatally flawed food-item in my opinion anyway as the mushrooms are almost always overly watery in the mouth. Pretty mediocre.

Elizabeth ordered the Grilled Cobia Curry for her entree. It was plated very similarly to my dish, the grilled fish sitting atop and surrounded by veg, all covered in sauce. She truly enjoyed it. I found it pretty mediocre, the curry being my biggest hang up. It didn't really taste of curry. It was a mixture of spices and, again, some kind of fruitiness (I think maybe they use some kind of pureed fruit to build their sauces and keep them healthy), but wasn't taking me anywhere in Asia, we'll just say.

Her side was a plate of crescent-shaped roasted golden beets with a wasabi dipping sauce. It was an interesting thought, the fibrous, earthy beets offset by the burn of the wasabi cream. But it was a little too extreme, the beets being too plain and dry and the wasabi sauce too one-note and spicy to slather the hunks of beet adequately. Definitely wouldn't recommend or get them again.

Seasons 52 keeps on going with their shot glass desserts, 275 calories or less. And they should. They taste great and so many diners want an inexpensive, small dessert option like this. I applaud the idea and think every restaurant ought to have small, affordable desserts like this available. We tried four and I feel no embarrassment in saying so. All were good. Not mind blowing, but just what we wanted. For the record, they were mocha macchiato, pecan pie, key lime and German chocolate. Try them out.

In the end, my impression of Seasons 52 is unchanged. On the one hand, I appreciate the healthier options and preparations. Nothing really sucks on the menu. On the other hand, is there really any incentive to go to a restaurant with twenty dollar fish entrees that are pretty darn forgettable?

Here's what I say: there are plenty of diners out there who eat out a lot and get tired of menus full of nothing but rich, indulgent options. Business travelers flood the plaza every week and many of them are forced to eat out and want something tasty but reasonably healthy. Seasons 52 gives them that option. You can find better food at a better price in this city but you can't find any restaurant with the upscale atmosphere and balance of healthier/good-tasting food they have.

So I must applaud Seasons 52 on filling a void many of us recognized but for which we didn't have a good resolution. I'd love to see a local place open up, serve the same niche and gain favor with Kansas Citians, but until then, Seasons 52 will stay on my radar each time I have clients in town for my nine-to-five job.

Rating: two napkins

Seasons 52 on Urbanspoon

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