September 1, 2014

Appetite

So fresh, so green: Seasons 52 looks to fresh, organic produce whenever possible to create healthful dishes, such as a roasted eggplant Parmesan flatbread and the organic tomato stack salad.Seasoned for Pleasure

When I first learned of the arrival in Naples of a new restaurant called Seasons 52—a restaurant so intent on serving the freshest cuisine, they ditched the usual four seasons in favor of a season every week of the year—I thought, “Ingenious! This must be a small, chef-owned passion project. Somebody must have ties to the local farming community.”

Imagine my surprise when I learned that Seasons 52 was the latest “concept” from Darden, the “world’s largest full-service restaurant company,” aka the parent company that owns Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Longhorn Steakhouse, The Capital Grille and Bahama Breeze, aka the creators of 180,000 jobs, and the servers of 400 million meals annually. 

“The menu claims that no dish has more than 475 calories,” I said. “How can that be possible?”

“If this place becomes as ubiquitous as Olive Garden, this could totally change the way we feel at the end of long road trips,” Tom said. 

Simply delicious: Seasons’ chefs focus on simple preparations of great ingredients for dishes such as farmers market vegetable plate with roasted Bosc pear, butternut squash, grilled tofu and almond tabbouleh.Ensconced in an elegant booth in the new Naples outlet—the nineteenth Seasons 52, which opened in October—we sipped our wine, a delicious Selbach-Oster pinot blanc ($11.25 glass/$45 bottle) and the Chehalem 3 Vineyard, Willamette ’09 pinot noir ($16.75 glass/$67 bottle), and noted that the ambiance was far more Capital Grille than Red Lobster. Even the live music seemed pleasantly unobtrusive, such a relief when you want to hear your dinner partner first and foremost. (After five years of marriage, I’m happy to report that we still want to listen to each other.)  

Guided by our capable and cheerful server Katherine Powell, we considered offerings from the seasonal menu—changed quarterly—as well as the weekly menu. Turns out only select items are organic and/or local. We started with the “Flatbread of the Week,” a beautifully presented Portobello mushroom orgy of flavor with spinach, roasted garlic and truffle sour cream ($9.60). 

“This pizza makes me happy,” Tom said after taking the first bite. “Try this.”

He reached across the table to feed me a slice.

“Whoa,” I said. “We’re coming back for the flatbread alone.”

After a hearty bowl of the farmers market vegetable soup ($5.60) and a platter of succulent Florida stone crab claws ($28.95), our salads arrived. Tom chose the organic arugula with truffle dressing, Portobello mushrooms and Parmesan cheese ($7.55), while I savored the musky notes of the Kalymnos greek salad, with feta cheese, cucumbers, tomatoes, sliced red onions and kalamata olives ($7.60).  

Tom sampled the moist, delicious cedar plank roasted salmon with whole roasted sweet carrots, fresh asparagus and red bliss potatoes ($18), while I chose the roasted artichoke-stuffed shrimp with wilted leaf spinach, pasta pearls and clam cioppino sauce ($21). Mine was enjoyable, but Tom’s was the clear winner.

We were both winners when Katherine brought out her tray of mini indulgences desserts ($2.50 each). Unable to demonstrate restraint, we tried five of the eight. 

“This classic red velvet cake could prove the existence of God,” I said.

Mighty mini: Seasons’ mini indulgences desserts pack big flavor into a small package.“Oh, good,” Tom said. “For a moment there I was worried from all that audible moaning that you were getting carried away.” 

“OK now I’m positive there’s a God,” I said, licking clean the dish filled with pecan pie with vanilla mousse. We also tried the Key lime pie, chocolate peanut butter mousse and market fresh fruit. Pure bliss.

“Can we come back every season?” I asked Tom. 

“Anytime,” he said.

Good food served in a lovely space is never out of season.  

              

Seasons 52      
8930 Tamiami Trail N., Naples; (239) 594-8852. Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dinner 4-10 p.m., 11 p.m. on Friday. Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Live music nightly from 6 p.m. to closing. Reservations highly recommended. Free valet parking. Credit cards accepted. Handicapped accessible.

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