This post was edited after publication.
Curious passersby peered in the floor-to-ceiling windows of Seasons 52 at Biltmore Fashion Park this past Saturday for a better look at the five-course lunch, complete with wine pairings, previewing the location's opening a week from today, Oct. 25. The plan is to serve up tasty seasonal fare that won't spoil your diet: No dish has more than 475 calories - desserts included.
The Floridian restaurant concept's Senior Director of Culinary Chef Clifford Pleau and Director of Beverage and Hospitality Master Sommelier George Miliotes flew in to oversee and narrate the dining experience, and journalists, bloggers and Yelpers gathered around a giant improvised chef's table. Eight wines, five courses, and two desserts later, consensus was we'd be back. We, however, have a few caveats for our next visit.
Seasons 52 nailed some aspects (shining through at salad and dessert), while completely missing the mark on others (under-seasoned dishes and wine gone awry).
Click through for our first impressions.
Look forward to interesting flavor combinations and plating presentations. Salad was particularly exciting: Organic mixed greens with truffle oil and roasted pistachios. Pleau ramps up the plating by serving salads in glass cylinders which are removed tableside by wait staff (or in our case, the master sommelier) to the collective ooohs and ahhhs of diners: Not the usual salad reaction.
The salad also stood up to the 2007 Sinskey Pinot Noir Miliotes paired it with: A spot-on "silky, smooth, and sexy" Pinot Noir, according to him, and one of the more memorable wines of the afternoon. Also tasty in the wine category was the Aveleda Vinho Verde out of Portugal, which Miliotes describes as "crisp, clean, and used like bottled water in Portugal" and recommends trying before it takes off and the price skyrockets.
Miniature desserts or "Mini Indulgences" are also inventive. Seasons 52 claims to have started the shot-glass dessert trend, which is news to us. Regardless of who started it, Seasons 52 does it right: Nine options at $2.50 each. Order one. Order them all. Mix and match two or three. Whatever. We'd suggest the Old-Fashioned Carrot Cake, Chocolate Peanut Butter Mousse, and Meyer Lemon Pound Cake.
Fresh ingredients are sourced nationally and locally, but Seasons 52 President Stephen Judge says Arizona suppliers have yet to be determined. We'll be interested to see what transpires, and for that matter, how the restaurant will adapt its seasonally changing menu to reflect Phoenix's anomalous growing seasons. (Contrary to its name, Seasons 52's menu is not weekly.)
Another standout course was the rustically simple Sonoma Goat Cheese Ravioli. Pleau dishes his secret pasta dough: Egg roll wrappers, stuffed full, and sealed tight. This robust dish was paired with what was supposed to be a big wine - the 2008 Retromarcia Chianti Classico - but we must have gotten a pour from a bad bottle because ours was watery and lackluster.
Other letdowns included a lack of flavor in the vegetarian take on a cedar-plank salmon, subbing the salmon for tofu. The tofu, served on a cedar plank, tasted nothing like cedar, and last time we checked, wood was vegetarian-friendly. This was especially disappointing since Pleau introduced the course with a cooking tip on how to best use cedar planks: Oil the board to prevent drying out the fish (or in our case, tofu). And despite Pleau's sincere attempt, his Brussel sprouts didn't win us over in his portobello-version of the quail and rack of lamb dish other diners were served. Plus, the main-event portobello didn't impress either either.
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The sweet potatoes and asparagus, on the other hand, were cooked to perfection. And the two deep read wine pairings were delicious: The 2004 Markham Petite Sirah out of Napa Valley with rich fruity notes and the 2007 De Toren Fusion V, a Bourdeau-style blend out of South Africa.
We are digging the chef's table setup at the front of the house right off the open kitchen where the Biltmore locations Executive Chef Partner Jeff LaVine will treat guests to a similar interactive experience. He's another Floridian, it'll be interesting to see his take on Arizona seasons.
We'd also recommend checking out some of the 65 wines available by the glass ($6 to $18), even if it is just with a mini dessert after an afternoon shopping trip. If you can grab a seat in the bar, you'll be entertained by a pianist on a rotating platform as well.
Seasons 52 has friendly waitstaff, taste-the-freshness food and a sophisticated but not stuffy atmosphere all going for it already, if local partnerships are solidified that will be another draw. But will it be enough to make it a destination dining spot? We'll see.