Tag Archives: Seasons 52 Princeton

My Lunch @ Seasons 52

Permit me to list all the reasons that until last week I ignored Seasons 52, the restaurant that opened in Market Fair late in 2014.

  1. It’s a chain restaurant, with 44 locations across the country.
  2. Its parent company is Darden, whose brands include Olive Garden and Longhorn Steakhouse.
  3. It’s located in a mall – albeit a smallish, upscalish one.
  4. It boasts that no menu item is more than 475 calories. Diet mall food? Puh-leez.
  5. It boasts 52 wines by the glass. I mean, come on – quantity over quality?
  6. Its menu is all over the place. What one kitchen could produce excellent versions of banh mi, shrimp scampi, black bean tacos, Korean lettuce wraps, and venison stew?

Allow me to say, mea culpa.

1 of 2 private dining rooms, Seasons 52 Princeton

1 of 2 private dining rooms, Seasons 52 Princeton

I first became familiar with the brand from my work on the Zagat NJ guides, when the first Seasons 52 in the state, in the Cherry Hill mall, began garnering excellent scores. (Since then, one has opened in Menlo Park mall, and another is coming to Bridgewater Commons.) But even that wasn’t enough to turn my head.

What did was the deluge of unsolicited, unfailingly positive reports from Princeton-area folks that began pouring in. Everyone, from the most discriminating foodie to the least adventurous and pickiest of eaters, raved. One restaurant critic (I’m looking at you, Faith Bahadurian) even booked it for her family’s Thanksgiving dinner. In no time, snagging one of its 284 seats (with another 36 outside come spring) became difficult, both for lunch and dinner.

So when the folks at Seasons 52 offered to have me and a guest for lunch – and knowing that I wouldn’t be officially reviewing it – I accepted. Clearly (or you wouldn’t be reading this), I came away impressed, just like everyone else. Before I get into specifics, let me just offer this rebuttal to the above:

  1. It’s a chain, yes, but the most common comment on Yelp! is, “This doesn’t feel like a chain.”
  2. Darden is also parent to another well respected brand, Capital Grille, which Seasons 52 resembles in décor and ambiance – but with kinder, gentler price points.
  3. A mall location means there’s always free and convenient parking.
  4. Dishes are smartly conceived to minimize calorie-laden carbs. Flatbreads, for example have a lavash-like base rather than a focaccia base.
  5. Those 52 wines by the glass (which also change seasonally) are chosen by George Miliotes, one of fewer than 250 certified Master Sommeliers worldwide. And they’re only part of an impressive international list of 100 wines on the menu.
  6. While I wasn’t able to sample the breadth of the menu in one lunch, I was impressed by 100% of what I and my guest shared.

Now on to the specifics:

Artichoke flatbread, Seasons 52 Princeton

Artichoke flatbread, Seasons 52 Princeton

We started with the artichoke and goat cheese (Laura Chenel) flatbread ($9.95) with spinach, balsamic onions, and red peppers. As you can see, it’s big enough to share. The toppings were fresh and flavorful and the crisp, lavash-like base kept the dish light.

Sea scallops, Seasons 52 Princeton

Sea scallops, Seasons 52 Princeton

My guest still hasn’t stopped raving about the caramelized grilled sea scallops ($21.50/lunch; $22.50/dinner). These 6 (sometimes 7) big boys – beautifully grilled to bring out their inherent sweetness – are brushed with lemon butter; sit on a spread of loose, creamy leek risotto; and are accompanied by cubes of tender butternut squash and excellent asparagus. Interestingly, the menu lists broccolini, not asparagus (Seasons 52 restaurants nationwide serve the same menu), but the restaurant’s executive chef, James Petersen, told us that each chef has leeway to switch out ingredients. (A full profile of Petersen will appear in a later post.)

Executive Chef James Petersen, Seasons 52 Princeton

Executive Chef James Petersen, Seasons 52 Princeton

My entree choice, venison, is typically only on the dinner menu, but Chef Petersen put it on a special “winter pairing menu” at lunch that day. (That’s another call that Seasons 52 chefs – who are also partners – get to make.)

Venison chop & ragout, Seasons 52 Princeton

Venison chop & ragout, Seasons 52 Princeton

It’s a New Zealand venison chop plus venison ragout, with sweet potato mash, roasted peppers, and asparagus ($27). The chop (larger than it appears above) is juicy, well-seasoned, and was cooked rare, as ordered, but the star of the plate is the ragout, which has the depth of  boeuf bourguignon while preserving the venison’s gaminess. It’s worth twice 475 calories! The dish paired beautifully with my wine choice: Casillero del Diablo carmenere ($8.50/glass; $34/bottle), one of two carmeneres on the menu. (Pretty impressive that a chain restaurant would have two, no?)

Mini indulgences, Seasons 52 Princeton

Mini indulgences, Seasons 52 Princeton

In keeping within the calorie limit, Seasons 52 has finessed dessert into “Signature Mini Indulgences.” Guests choose from among 7 choices, each the size of a double shot glass and costing a mere $2.75. This happens to be exactly the amount of dessert I require. I preferred my guest’s mocha macchiato parfait with caramel sauce to my lemon curd with blueberries, but I would like to try the others, which have flavors of key lime pie, pecan pie, carrot cake, chocolate and peanut butter, double fudge brownies and cannoli with raspberry sauce.

Not to mention returning for those Korean duck lettuce wraps and black bean tacos. Check out the full menu and more at: www.seasons52.com

 

 

DINING ALONG THE DELAWARE; APPLE PIE: YOU MAKE, I TASTE; PRINCETON RESTAURANT SCENE ABOUT TO GIVE BIRTH TO QUADRUPLETS

Waterside Dining with Exquisite Views

9-24 Cover & Front (1-11).inddAdmittedly, all but 1 of the 5 restaurants I profile in the Fall Dining Issue of US 1 are across the river in PA, but they each come with  great views of Central NJ. And there are some pretty noteworthy eats at, for example:

Charcoal BYOB in Yardley, where 2 young brothers are making waves as far away as Philly with their progressive American cuisine

The Yardley Inn: Just mere feet from Charcoal, updated traditional American fare shines due to the exacting standards of Chef Eben Copple, who deserves more recognition on this side of the river

The Black Bass Hotel: New owners who bought the outdated inn and restaurant upriver in Lumberville at auction a few years ago have given it a new lease on life.

View from The Landing Restaurant, New Hope PA (Pat Tanner)

View from The Landing Restaurant, New Hope PA (Pat Tanner)

Is Your Apple Pie Prize-worthy? I’ll be the Judge of That!

The West Windsor Community Farmers Market is holding a bake-off for home bakers on Saturday, October 11 and I am honored to be a judge, along with pro baker Karen Child (formerly, Village Bakery & Brick Farm Market) and Princeton food writer & restaurant critic Faith Bahadurian.

I make a pretty mean apple pie, myself!

I make a pretty mean apple pie, myself!

Here are the details, straight from the market folks:

Amateur Apple Pie Bake Off Contest –Due to the overwhelming outpouring of peach pies in our August contest, we’ll be hosting an apple pie contest.  Think you make the best apple pie around using NJ apples?  Come show us your stuff!  Pies are due at the market at 10:30am with judging at 11:00am.  First, Second and Third place winners will receive Market Bucks to be used as cash at the farmers market this season.  Amateur bakers only and pre-registration is required.  To register, for more details and rules, please email wwcfm@yahoo.com.

Congratulations to manager Chris Cirkus and everyone at the West Windsor market for being voted NJ’s #1 farmers market for the second year in a row by American Farmland Trust.

Pregnant Princeton Dining Scene Giving Birth This Month

Jammin' Crepes logoJammin’ Crepes: For years, Kim Rizk & company’s inventive sweet and savory crepes have been enjoyed at area farmers markets. Her long-awaited brick-and-mortar spot on Nassau Street has passed its final inspections & will be opening any day now.

Mamoun's Falafel Lamb Sandwich

Mamoun’s Falafel Lamb Sandwich

(UPDATE: MAMOUN’S OPENED ON 10/6/14 – JUST AS INDICATED HERE:)

Mamoun’s Falafel: Rumor has it  (thanks, Mimi O of Princeton Tour Company!) that this NYC chain with outlets in Hoboken & New Brunswick will at long last open its Witherspoon Street digs within hours. Fingers crossed!

 

Seasons 52: This well-regarded small chain that already has a popular Cherry Hill location will open on October 30 at MarketFair Mall (in the  space that had been Barnes & Noble). Seasons 52, self-described as a “fresh grill and wine bar,” changes its menu 4 times a year and sports an extensive wine list that includes 52 wines by the glass.

SweetGrass: The unique, beautiful structure that had been Bell & Whistle (byob) in Hopewell has just reopened with a new name and new chef/owner, Sarah Gresko. She terms her menu “bold American,” but much of it pays homage to her culinary training at Johnson & Wales in Charleston, SC. (Think fried green tomatoes & chicken with andouille cornbread stuffing.)

Sarah Gresko, Owner/Chef SweetGrass, Hopewell NJ

Sarah Gresko, Owner/Chef SweetGrass, Hopewell NJ