Seasons 52: Good and good for you 

click to enlarge PHOTO: MARK LEE

Seasons 52 has been described as being to restaurants what Whole Foods is to supermarkets. It’s an apt characterization. This rapidly growing Orlando, Fla.-based chain prides itself on its fresh, organic ingredients and sensible portion sizes. Seasons 52 promises that nothing on the menu is over 475 calories; if you visit their website, you’ll even find a downloadable nutrition chart listing the fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbs and sugars for every item you might choose to order.

Seasons 52 claims to offer a sophisticated dining experience that’s good for you. That’s fine as far as it goes, but how does it taste? The answer: good.

The Seasons 52 folks have made over the southwest corner of Keystone Crossing, creating a space that feels like it’s equal parts ski chalet and desert spa. The Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired interior design is high-ceilinged, woody and warm, with plenty of indirect lighting.

Even at 5 p.m. on a weekday, the place was doing a brisk business. We took a booth in the bar, which was pleasantly cozy while also affording views of the main dining area, as well as the open, bistro-style kitchen.

We started with an order of Rosemary and Parmesan Crispbread ($4.10). This arrived in the form of a vertical sleeve containing four long tongues of flatbread coated with parmesan cheese and fresh herbs. The bread itself was cracker thin and buttery, which made it both crisp and agreeably chewy – a nice way to start the meal.

Seasons 52 offers a full service bar, but wine is this establishment’s forte; there are over 60 to choose from that can be ordered by the glass. My companion selected a Brampton Sauvignon Blanc from South Africa ($7.50); I chose a smooth Spanish white, Paso Verdejo ($7.25).

Next up was a cup of Farmers Market Vegetable Soup ($4.80). This soothing appetizer came with a neat loop of green pesto floating on its surface by way of introduction to what revealed itself to be a subtly effective sequence of flavors, beginning with a whiff of basil, followed by garlic and then root vegetables.

I ordered a Spicy Chicken Chile Relleno ($8.95), a blend of tender chicken, sun-dried tomatoes, goat cheese and spinach served amidst a festive orange and red spray of pico de gallo. This was a tasty dish, with a clean, citrusy afterglow, but it barely budged the needle on my personal spice’o’meter.

Although the emphasis at Seasons 52 is on healthy pleasures, pickings for vegetarians are perhaps a bit slimmer than one might expect. My vegetarian companion ordered the Farmers Market Vegetable Plate entrée ($12.95), a simple but truly elegant serving consisting of grilled squash and Bosc pear, a grilled ponzu tofu steak with pico de gallo, plus toasted almond tabbouleh with dried cranberries and an assortment of other grilled delights, including snow peas, broccoli, red pepper, carrots, mushrooms and yellow beets. At many restaurants, a dish like this would come bedecked with a sauce of some kind. The ultimate strength of Seasons 52 is its talent for figuring out ways to let the ingredients speak for themselves. This dish turned out to be a chorus of bright and vivid flavors. The tabbouleh was particularly good – if only there’d been a little more of it.

I tucked into the Cedar Plank Salmon with sweet red bliss potatoes, whole-roasted sweet carrots and asparagus ($17.95). This, too, was an essentially unadorned but expertly prepared dish that put the food’s essential flavors first.

In keeping with its policy of sensible serving sizes, Seasons 52 offers what they call Mini Indulgences ($2.50). These consist of a variety of classic desserts served in what amount to double-shot glass portions. We had the Key Lime Pie and the Mocha Macchiato, both of which did a brilliant job of hitting our respective sweet spots, but without making us feel like a couple of blimps.

We departed Seasons 52 feeling nourished, our senses refreshed and our appetites satisfied. Sometimes what’s good for you is really good.

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