COSTA MESA, Calif.- “Eat less but experience more” could be the motto for the newly opened Seasons 52. Generous portions and inspired plates hit every flavor note without butter or deep fryers. Can this be health food? Culinary director Cliff Pleau has put together an amazingly delicious menu with no item over 475 calories. He believes, “this will change the industry.” His cooking proves that healthful, low-calorie food can taste great.
Seasons 52 belongs to the Darden restaurant group which also includes Red Lobster and Olive Garden. This Seasons is one of 11 and the first to open west of the Mississippi. The location in Southern California’s Costa Mesa includes a piano bar, patio seating, a private dining room and seating for 300. The wine list has 100 options with 60 offered by the glass. The name refers to serving foods at their peak of freshness each week of the year.
“It’s a California concept but started in Florida,” said chef Pleau. “There was over five years of research completed at Darden that confirmed that seasonal and healthy was a concept right for the times.”
Pleau spent 10 years in California working for the Claremont Hotel in Oakland and for Bradley Ogden in Larkspur and San Francisco. The now ubiquitous philosophy of sourcing local and seasonal ingredients was practiced by Ogden back in the ’80s and adopted by Pleau.
“For years I was cooking lighter and lighter. Cooking seasonally is naturally more healthy,” the chef said. Pleau created the menu for Seasons 52 from scratch. “We start with a blank plate and add ingredients that are about quality, seasonality and nutrition,” he explained. Roasting, grilling and caramelizing food in season are the secret to the full-flavored menu.
All food is checked by outside nutritionists. With a limit of 475 calories, every ingredient has to count for texture, aroma, mouth-feel and taste. “We have to be accurate to keep calories correct,” Pleau said. Recipes are created to be made the same in every city and the same every night.
The culinary director shared some cooking tips that add flavor and not fat.
• Switch from sautéing to grilling
• Use arrowroot instead of flour as a sauce thickener
• Choose cheeses that have high flavor profiles such as blue, goat or pepper jack so you can use less
• Eat whole fresh foods instead of dried ones; a pound of grapes instead of raisins, a pound of potatoes instead of chips, etc.
• Distribute cooking oil with a spray bottle
• Use non-fat sour cream, non-fat cottage cheese or silken tofu as a replacement for creamy or mayo-based sauces
The recent opening of Seasons 52 is a healthy addition to the food scene. Yummy, happy satisfaction minus the overdose of fat, sugar and salt. (Take that Cheesecake Factory!)
Caramelized Dungeness crab & shrimp stuffed mushrooms with roasted garlic and Monterey Jack cheese 9.95
Housemade Sonoma goat cheese ravioli with roasted garlic and sweet basil in a light tomato broth 8.95
Farmers’ market vegetable plate with artichoke gratin, grilled tofu ponzu and cranberry almond tabbouleh 13.95
Mesquite grilled Tazmanian trout with miso mushroom noodles, toasted sesame seeds and San Miguel Farms bok choy 19.95
Wood-Fired Maple Leaf pork tenderloin with polenta, spinach, cremini mushrooms and Dijon glaze 17.95
Mini-indulgences … individual servings 2.75 each
Key lime pie
Pecan pie over vanilla mousse
Chocolate peanut butter mousse
Meyer lemon pound cake
Seasons 52 Fresh Grill
South Coast Plaza
3333 Bristol Ave Suite #2802
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
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