Seasons 52, the new restaurant located in the new Millennium complex on Westheimer adjacent to Bo Concept, is opening to the public today.
"The name Seasons 52 represents the 52 weeks of the year," said Reuben Rolf, the managing partner. "Every week, our menu offers a side panel of new dishes that use the freshest possible ingredients for that week." The most amazing thing about the menu, however, is the fact that the chefs have created delicious dishes with one overarching parameter: All the dishes are 475 calories or less.
It's hard to believe, especially when you see some of the things coming from the kitchen. During my tour of the restaurant, I spied a big plate of what looked like three good-sized short ribs covered in what appeared to be a calorie-laden demi-glace sauce, and quickly expressed my skepticism. "Those would be our lamb chops," my tour guide Jeremy explained. "And the way they are prepared makes them no more than 475 calories."
A group of local media, including myself, were invited to preview some of these dishes as part of the restaurant's pre-opening party. In the main dining room, guests ordered à la carte from the menu, while the media was treated to a wine-and-food pairing dinner overseen by Rolf and Season 52's corporate Master Sommelier, George Miliotes.
The dinner featured passed flatbreads to start, paired with a small grower champagne, the Chartogne-Taillet Cuvee Sainte Anne. Miliotes came in to briefly introduce himself and the wines he'd chosen for the evening, stating that all the wines we were tasting could be found on the wine list. In addition, he noted that the list contained more than 100 wines featuring more than 26 varietals, with 60 wine-by-the-glass options.
Not surprisingly, the pairings were simply outstanding. I very much enjoyed the 2011 Avela Vinho Verde from Portugal, a crisp, light white wine that paired seamlessly with an amuse-bouche of lump crab meat on avocado puree.
Chef James Holets came in to introduce the dishes he'd selected for the evening, including an organic salmon and lemongrass sea scallop roasted on the cedar plank, a salad of organic field greens, Sonoma goat cheese ravioli in an organic tomato broth, and mesquite-grilled Piedmontese strip steak and Manchester Farms all natural quail. He explained the philosophy of cooking techniques such as grilling items over mesquite, or roasting fish on the cedar plank, and how the use of herbs and fresh ingredients allowed for maximum flavor without the calories.
On the organic salmon dish, I enjoyed the fact that the fish was less oily, and thus less "fishy" smelling, than other salmons available on the market. The grilled vegetables accompanying the dish were well prepared and naturally sweet. Paired with an oak-aged 2010 Mer Soleil Chardonnay, the dish was lovely and healthy, and in spite of the smaller tasting portion we were served, looked and tasted as if it would be a lot more than 475 calories.
My favorite dish of the night was the organic field green salad. Surprising, because I'm more of a carnivore than a vegetarian. I'm one of those people who kind of have to force themselves to eat salad, but in this case, I tucked into it with gusto. Each bite of the salad -- made of nothing more than field greens, dried cherries, grilled golden beets and pistachios, and tossed cumin lime vinaigrette -- had chewy, crispy texture from the nuts and dried cherries, along with this really wonderful expression of lime and cumin that brought everything together. It also happened to be paired with my favorite wine of the night, a King Estate Pinot Gris from Willamette, Oregon, not quite dry and not quite sweet, but fruity, with a slightly sweet finish.
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The Mesquite-grilled Piedmontese strip steak was also notable for its tenderness and flavor. The Nebraskan raised meat was so lean, it reminded me of nilgai. Served with a whole baby quail in a roasted onion jus over a bed of mashed sweet potatoes, the pairing was really fun, because Miliotes decided to give us two choices. "You can play sommelier and do a side-by-side comparison," he told us as he described the the "old world, in a new world style" 2009 Ato Moncayo Garnacha from Campo de Borja, Spain, and the "new world done in the old world style" 2009 De Toren Z, by Stellenbosch. I discovered that I was an old world vineyard, new technique kind of girl.
To end the night, we were served a mouthwatering palette of "mini indulgences," essentially mini desserts in a cup, all 300 calories or less each and designed to offer tastings without the guilt. I managed to polish off half of the red velvet, while taking spoonfuls of pecan pie, peanut butter chocolate, rocky road, cannoli, blueberry cheesecake and more. Yes, it added up to more than 300 calories, but it's nice to know that if I wanted to, I could have a healthful meal and know exactly how many calories went into it. In fact, I used it to my advantage while working out the next day: I watched the calorie counter on my elliptical machine so I could burn off the bulk of the previous night's mini indulgences.