Thursday, March 6, 2003

Just testing

Posted on Thu, Mar 6, 2003 at 4:00 AM

Here are some quick tips for those who don't have an entire evening to kill at Seasons 52, the new "test" restaurant on Sand Lake Road from the Darden folks (Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Bahama Breeze).

Don't go there on a Friday night. Don't go after 7:30 p.m. Don't try to make a reservation; they're booked for weeks. Don't go there now. But once the newness wears off, go there.

Seasons 52 is what they're calling a "fresh grill." The concept ties seasonal items and global specialties into the menu, trying to make the most of what's currently available. Basically, that means some dishes will come and go throughout the year, while others will change when, say, asparagus is harvested in California or strawberries reach their peak here.

Even if you're not a salad person, the mixture of baby spinach and Comice pear from Oregon, drizzled with lemon vinaigrette and blue cheese, is a perky delight ($4.75). And even with the occasional grit, the large "Fisherman's bowl" of mussels ($8.50), fragrant with an orange-ginger broth, is worth ordering, just to slurp every drop from the bowl. By comparison, the much-touted chicken flatbread ($7.50), a long slab of thin, oven-roasted bread wasn't as impressive, undercooked in spots but crunchy and savory in others.

A rare presence in restaurants, chunks of mesquite-grilled turkey were presented with great flair on a kabob with red onions from Maui, and a sweet, dark tamarind glaze ($12.75). I cannot imagine it being done any better.

Grilled sea scallops ($17.95), giant discs pan-browned with fresh asparagus on the side, hovered right on the cusp of absolute greatness, and if they'd stayed in the skillet 30 seconds more they would have been.

Another interesting concept: Waiters come equipped with a wireless PDA (a sort of personal dining assistant) that not only feeds orders directly to the kitchen, but accesses nutritional information for every meal, on request. (Locally based nutritionist/writer Pam Smith, an expert on health and how people really eat, consulted on the menu.)

The room is large but with a feeling of intimacy. There's a great use of woods and windows, and everything fits, from the fabulous silverware to the energetic and casual but attentive service. And the chefs have great hats. While you're waiting for a table (even at 5:30 p.m. there was a 30-minute wait) the pleasant bar offers 60-plus wines by the glass.

Another "test" concept, Outback Steakhouse's Zazarac (which I liked), wasn't open long enough to be entered on a resume. I can't predict that the kitchens at Seasons 52 will be permanent enough to live out its name. But if it does, go.

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