Monday, March 28, 2016

Spring Has Sprung at Seasons 52

Seasons 52 opened in the summer of 2014 as one of the new shops and restaurants in Columbia Mall's outdoor extension. A national chain in the Darden Restaurants group (which also owns Bahama Breeze, Capital Grille, and Olive Garden, plus a few others not in the Baltimore area yet) Seasons 52 is all about "what's good now." Their food is seasonal (but not necessarily local) and designed not to bankrupt anyone's calorie budget for the day/week/month. That's not to say that they serve diet food - not at all! But you won't find a deep fryer in the kitchen, or french fries anywhere on their menu. Instead, entrees tend to include something starchy and something vegetal and average around 580 calories or so.

We were invited in to Seasons 52 to sample selections from the spring menu, with wine pairings; the multiple courses of deliciousness were a treat.

As we waited for the rest of our party of local food bloggers to arrive, we sampled two of the restaurant's seven flatbreads. New for spring are the lobster and fresh mozzarella (with roasted sweet peppers, scallions, and lobster sour cream) and the crispy prosciutto and asparagus (with Camembert and chervil). They are true flatbreads, with a very thin and crisp crust, and not just oddly-shaped pizzas. Toppings are generous and flavorful, with the lobster flatbread's creamy drizzle having a particularly pleasing lemony kick.

With the flatbreads, we enjoyed a Chartogne-Taillet Cuvee Sainte Anne, a lovely floral champagne.

Once we were seated, we received a spoonful of an intensely flavored chilled asparagus soup with lemon chantilly cream, paired with lightly effervescent Aveleda Vinho Verde.

Next up was a spinach salad dressed in a white balsamic vinaigrette, tossed with spring strawberries, toasted pine nuts, nuggets of Gorgonzola, and fresh pea tendrils, and drizzled with some 15-year aged balsamic. I felt the delicate greenness of the pea tendrils (also called pea shoots) was lost in all those assertive vinegar flavors, but sweet strawberries + toasty nuts + funky cheese are one of my favorite flavor combos.

(The salad was huge, and at 250 calories, when paired with an under-500-calorie flatbread, the combination would make a lovely lunch for two. Just a suggestion!)

With the salad we enjoyed a Tilia Torrontes redolent of jasmine, honeysuckle, and rose.

We then received two appetizers. The first, Meyer lemon ricotta ravioli with brown butter, roasted peppers, and English peas, was an actual appetizer. With it we drank a Robert Sinskey Los Carneros Pinot Noir, the earthiness of which worked well with the rich brown butter and overall sweetness of the citrussy ricotta filling.

The second "app" we sampled was actually an entree. Six handsomely-sized scallops with lemon risotto, English peas, and roasted asparagus won me over. I've complained many a time about the insane cost of scallops in a restaurant. You're lucky to get three puny ones for $30. Seasons 52 serves six big babies, perfectly cooked, for $23.50. The accompanying risotto was delightfully creamy and Mr Minx and I found ourselves fighting for the last morsels on the plate.

With the scallops we drank a Mer Soleil Chardonnay, which, while delightful on its own with its unusual almost-sweet butterscotch and apple flavors, didn't work so well with the scallops. The wine made them fishy on my palate. YMMV, of course. The wine is generally recommended for seafood.

We also sampled two entrees, the Asian-glazed Chilean Sea Bass with organic black rice, snow peas, shiitake mushrooms, and micro wasabi. I loved it. The somewhat sticky black rice positively oozed with heavenly brown butter flavors, and the fish was ultra fresh and very moist. The sauce, which could have erred on the too-sweet side, was just right to my palate. Mr Minx and I also finished every last drop of this dish, along with the accompanying Selbach-Oster Kabinett Reisling, apple-vanilla sweet with nice lime-y acidity.

Our last savory dish was the wood-grilled rack of lamb with spring vegetables (including English peas, asparagus, fiddlehead ferns, pearl onions, carrots, and mushrooms), Yukon Gold mash, and shallot jus. The chops were cooked to a juicy and well-rested medium-to-medium rare, and all the veg were crisp-tender. With them we drank a smooth Cab blend from South Africa, the De Taren Fusion V, with flavors of berries, licorice, and spice.

But wait kids, that's not all! We were also served desserts. Just about all of them. As part of Seasons 52's reasonably caloried meals, desserts are wee parfait-style treats that range between 220 and 370 calories (and if they have that many calories, just think of what a full-sized slice of pie a la mode is worth!). We sampled pecan pie, strawberry cannoli, key lime pie, Belgian chocolate s'mores, mocha macchiato, chocolate peanut butter torte, and a tiramisu-style concoction that came with a pipette of amaretto. All rich and tasty; the cannoli, chocolate peanut, and key lime concoctions were our faves. We had another nice Selbach-Oster Reisling, a Bernkasteler Badstube Auslese, with dessert.

It was an excellent meal, all said, with the strawberries, pea shoots, asparagus, and fiddleheads adding happy hints of spring here and there. Seasons 52 is certainly worth a visit, not only for the lovely food, but also the great selection of wines. (The 52 in the restaurant's name indicates the 52 wines available by the glass. One hundred are usually available by the bottle.) Just don't fall in love with any of them, because, as is almost always the case for us, few if any are available in local stores (the Mer Soleil being an exception).

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