First Bites

Seasons 52: First Bites (Part 1)

Seasons 52 debuts on Miracle Mile this coming Monday, November 15. When plans were announced for the Coral Gables venue some months ago, I was skeptical; just couldn't see a corporate restaurant with outlets in eight states being nimble enough to fashion menus based on seasonal and local produce in so many different locales. The president, sommelier, and chef wanted to show me otherwise. So I visited the restaurant last week, and with my wife became the first two people to check the place out, while chatting with the Seasons 52 principals and sampling oodles of food and wine.

They obviously pulled out all the stops to impress me, but even taking that into consideration, I have to admit that I'd underestimated the passion and devotion to deliver a quality dining experience. Seasonality and nods to local growers are indeed being pursued (Gabriele of Paradise Farms tells me that 52's Prez Stephen Judge contacted her and she's meeting with them next week). Yet the real ambition of Seasons 52 is less pegged to specific months and farms and more to serving fresh, low-fat, relatively healthy meals that taste as good as high-fat ones do. Numerically speaking, no item on the menu exceeds 475 calories.

Keep going to learn more about Seasons 52...

The aforementioned Stephen Judge, President of Seasons 52, greeted us at the door and led us on a quick tour of the expansive premises. I'll let the photos do the describing, only to add that at night the room is darker, warmer, more sophisticated. It's a gorgeous space, and versatile too -- glass windows and walls drop down and fold over and whatnot in order to isolate or blend different rooms (the main dining room has 136 seats, plus 66 seats in the bar area, 29 barstools, 24 outdoor patio seats, and a private chef's table room, which is where we dined). Stephen, originally from Liverpool, has an accomplished restaurant background, his most recent job being VP Food and Beverage for the MGM Grand Hotel in Vegas -- overseeing the property's 17 new restaurant and bar concepts, including the Michelin three-star Joel Robuchon. The namesake chef could be "difficult", according to Judge, but "I learned so much from him. He is so meticulous in every detail, and always striving to become better at what he does."

​We moseyed over to the large, circular bar that is sizable enough to fit a pianist behind it. Live piano music sort of bucks the trend of thumpy club music, which to these ears is a good thing. Joining us at the bar was George Miliotes, who some years back became the 152nd Master Sommelier in the world (there are now 170). His resume includes being GM of Walt Disney World's respected California Grill, where he forged one of the first lists to offer 100 wines by the glass.As with Stephen, George's passion for his work pours freely. "We're able to travel the globe -- Argentina, South Africa, Germany, Italy, Spain -- and work in all those countries every year to influence the wines on our list, and in some cases to blend the wine. Not every company has the vision and foresight to want to do something like that."

He worked with one vintner "for eight years to make a chardonnay we can charge $6 a glass for. I earn my living by finding wines for six dollars, eight-and-a-half, nine dollars a glass, by finding great wines at that price point."

Seasons 52 offers 100 wines in 26 different varietals. Sixty are available by the glass.

Miliotes started us with glasses of Chartogne-Taillet Cuvee Sainte Anne Champagne, a 50/50 pinot noir/chardonnay blend that tasted clean, creamy, smooth. We were joined by Seasons 52 Senior Director of Culinary Development Clifford Pleau, who has worked with the other two men for many years, and completes the trio of serious players.

Pleau's resume includes graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, being personal chef to Luciano Pavarotti, chef de partie at the Ritz-Carlton Boston, executive sous chef at the Boca Raton Resort, executive chef at the Mayfair Regent in Chicago and at Bradley Ogden's Lark Creek Inn. The latter job exposed him to pure, fresh, quality ingredients, which he now emphasizes.

In 1994, Cliff became executive chef at the California Grill, where he hooked up with Miliotes and Judge. At Seasons 52, Pleau uses a combination of cooking techniques such as live wood-fire grilling, brick-oven cooking, and caramelizing vegetables to draw out the full, natural flavors of the foods.

​We were also joined by a trio of flatbreads from the hearth: Chipotle shrimp with roasted poblanos, grilled pineapple, and feta cheese; Black Mission figs with Neuske's bacon, chévre, mint, and wild arugula; and a Cuban sandwich pizza with roasted pork, ham, pickle slices, shredded white cheese, and drizzles of mustard-mayo. "We've been playing with this recipe for days. I wanted to do something that tied in locally. The guys in the kitchen love it. You're the first customers trying it -- it's not even printed on the menu, but I'm thinking of putting it on."

The pizzas were all boldly flavored and equally good. I let the chef know I was very much in favor of putting the Cuban sandwich pizza on the menu -- it definitely works (and is, incidentally, the answer to last week's Where It At?).

Monday, a closer look at the food and wine of Seasons 52.Seasons 52
321 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables