Seasons 52: First Bites (Part 2)

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On Friday we offered a first look at Seasons 52, which debuts on Miracle Mile this afternoon. Today we take a closer look at some of the foods and wines sampled.

We sat down for a round of courses matched with wines. My favorite among the dishes sampled was one of the restaurant signatures: Organic salmon roasted on a cedar plank. The cedar flavor seeped into the salmon's silky, pale coral flakes (matched with Mer Soleil Chardonnay, Central Coast 2008).

Other courses included a thick, sumptuous oak-grilled venison chop matched with a deep, dark, plummy De Toren Fusion V, Stellenbosch 2007 from South Africa, with assertive oak notes that echoed the smoke of the chop. "Once or twice in a person's life they go somewhere and taste a wine and go 'Wow, I've found something out of the ordinary,' offers Miliotes. "And I remember being in South Africa and drinking this wine and going 'Wow, this is what Bourdeaux tastes like, but it doesn't cost $400 a bottle."

Before the chop we had enjoyed a large goat cheese ravioli. Chef Pleau explained that he uses wonton skins because they're lighter, and Laura Chenel goat cheese from San Francisco. Like Miliotes, Clifford visits the source, and has been going to Chenel's farm for years - if I heard him correctly, said he was the first person to bring her cheese into restaurants. The ravioli gets served with roasted garlic, basil, and tomato broth. "Certain foods just taste right together. Peanut butter, jelly, white bread; goat cheese, tomatoes, basil. It isn't rocket science." (The chef likes to use folksy sayings, such as when discussing how important the aromatics of a plate of food are when arriving at the table: "The nose is the chimney to the brain.").

The goat cheese ravioli was paired with Retromarcia, Chianti Classico 2008. Miliotes tells the story behind the grapes: "I visited a winemaker in Tuscany and asked him to make chianti like my grandfather made chianti. I wanted something authentic. He said 'All right, I can do this.' 75% of the grapes are bio-dynamically grown, the other 25% are from grapes that are two years away from certification. I love it because it evokes a place, not a style."

For dessert there are "mini-indulgences, which are $2.50 servings of classics such as Key lime pie, mango cheesecake, carrot cake, chocolate peanut butter mousse...served in small glasses (see photo).

The distinguishing characteristic of each menu item we tried was a lack of grease, oil, butter - any sort of heaviness. Is it the sort of pure farm-to-table dining you'd find in a small, privately-owned restaurant in the hills north of San Francisco? Not quite. But it is a sincere attempt by a chain to elevate the quality and nutritional contents of up-market dining. And pricing is more than competitive: Appetizers, soups, salads, flatbreads are around $5 to $9. Entree salads are $12 to $15. Excepting filet mignon and rack of lamb, main courses are under $20. Everything we sampled was fresh, well-prepared, pleasingly presented, and quite tasty. Now if they can cook this way for everybody else who dines here, this place will be a bona fide Gables hit.

Tomorrow: Seasons 52's recipes for Cider-brined Turkey and for Bourbon-Maple Glaze. Just in time for the holidays!

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