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Seasons 52 Fresh Grill: Keep your New Year’s resolution

By Jill Weinlein, 1/03/2013

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How does one maintain a New Year’s resolution of eating healthier or losing weight while dining out? Visit the new, elegant, yet casual Seasons 52. This fresh grill and wine bar serves creative farm-to-table dishes that are all nutritionally balanced and under 475 calories.

The cedar plank salmon absorbs flavor from the wood and is topped with roasted mushrooms. It is one of the restaurant’s most popular dishes. (photo by Jill Weinlein)

Walking into the main dining room, I felt as if I was inside a Frank Lloyd Wright design with its natural ledgestone and solid Honduran mahogany throughout.

Seasons 52 first opened in Florida in 2003 by Darden Restaurants. The name was formed from their concept of seasonally inspired fare and libations changing 52 weeks in the year.

The first California Seasons 52 location opened in the South Coast Plaza. Due to its success, they opened one in San Diego. Next, the Century City location opened right after Thanksgiving (located in the old Houston’s spot). Soon Santa Monica will have a Seasons 52 in the old iCugini location.

Even though there are 23 Seasons 52 across the US, the restaurant doesn’t feel like a chain.

I was introduced to the talented Executive Chef Clifford Pleau, while standing next to the glass-enclosed Chef’s Garden admiring over 140 plants. Seasons 52 restaurant in Century City is the first in Los Angeles to have a unique indoor herb garden. It has its own cooling and water filtration system, while the 600-watt grow lights help the plants flourish. “Throughout the day, chefs enter the room to clip herbs and incorporate them into their dishes,” said Chef Pleau. The restaurant has an outdoor garden too.

Executive Chef Clifford Pleau in front of the indoor garden. (photo by Jill Weinlein)

We started our dining adventure with a flatbread topped with organic tomatoes and fresh opal basil from the restaurant’s garden.

The award-winning chef and his long-time friend, Master Sommelier George Miliotes invited a group of us to enjoy their creative menu paired with cocktails and wine at the special Chef’s Table. It’s a private room that is ideal for parties, birthdays, showers or an intimate evening with friends. The room has mahogany walls, and picture frames filled with various colorful spices.

Chef Pleau likes to “wing it” sometimes and doesn’t always follow recipes. “When I get creative, I get a little whimsical in my dishes,” he said as we tasted his amuse bouche of Dungeness crab with an avocado mousse and salsa. It was accompanied with a crisp and spicy floral tasting Paso Paso Verdejo wine from La Mancha, Spain. The flavors went well with the seafood.

I learned so much from the master sommelier, George Miliotes. When he is not at one of the Seasons 52 restaurants hosting a Chef’s Table dinner, he is  educating his staff or traveling the world to find the next best wine.

The ultra-fresh Hamachi tataki is served with chopped herb salsa and a yuzu infusion. (photo by Jill Weinlein)

While pouring a tasty German wine, Selbach-Oster, a Pinot Blanc with a kiss of oak, Millotes told us, “it’s a terrific alternative to any Chardonnay. You won’t be able to find a bottle at any wine shop in CA. It’s only available at Seasons 52.” Miliotes develops personal relationships with the owners and winemakers at wineries. With notes of peach and apple, it paired nicely with Chef Pleau’s cellophane spring rolls. The bean thread noodle was filled with healthy bok choy, cilantro, mint  and lemongrass served with a chili glaze. Chef Pleau loves to squeeze kaffir lime on this dish to give it an extra zip. Also, he likes to use the whole leaf herbs, instead of dicing them up into his spring rolls, to offer a robust flavor with each bite.

There are no fryers, butter or bread baskets at Seasons 52. Chef Pleau doesn’t want people filling up on bread. “A ping-pong ball size of bread is about 100 calories,” he said. Because there are no fryers, the restaurant has a fresh scent.

The thinly sliced yellow and ruby-red beet salad was served with Cowgirl Creamery goat cheese. It was accompanied with a quinoa and farrel salad filled with mint, cranberries and citrus. Quinoa is a great grain for vegetarians, because it helps add amino acids to your diet. Goat cheese has smaller molecules than other cheeses. It’s easier to digest and not as fatty. This dish was paired with Honig Sauvignon Blanc from Napa Valley. It had hues of pink grapefruit, mango and papaya.

We also sipped orange wine made from white grapes, yet fermented as if the grapes were red. It went nicely with Chef Pleau’s cedar plank salmon topped with thyme, shitake mushrooms and a sherry vinaigrette. The richness of the salmon counter balances with the orange wine, and cleanses the back of the palate.

If you get a chance, try the lemon mojito made with the lemon verbena herb agave syrup and a rum made in the Dominican Republic by Enrique Iglesias. Not only does the world-class singer rise in the music charts, but he also owns a rum distillery. The cocktail went nicely with Chef Pleau’s Piedmontese steak tacos seasoned with a savory Tamarind mole sauce and fresh coriander.

He buys his beef from Nebraska and uses the double muscle of the meat to make his tacos lean like buffalo meat, offering 25 percent fewer calories than regular beef.

Even the raspberry chocolate chip cannoli and pecan pie with vanilla mousse were under 475 calories.

As we left our secluded dining room, we learned that talented musicians play nightly at the elegant U-shaped piano bar starting at 6 p.m.

The chefs happily customize dishes based on guests dietary needs to include lactose free, low sodium, gluten free, garlic free, vegetarian and vegan menus. Seasons 52 will help you keep your 2013 resolution to eat healthier, without depriving your taste buds. The restaurant opens at 11:30 a.m. for lunch and 4 p.m. for dinner. Self parking free for 3 hours. 10250 Santa Monica Blvd. (310)277-5252.

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