Seasons 52, Darden’s upscale, ostensibly healthy chain would be an ideal candidate for The Post-Millennium Chain Restaurants of Middlesex County, New Jersey treatment…but that will have to wait until 2013 when the state of New Jersey receives its first branch in Edison. Instead, I visited the closest location to NYC, at the King of Prussia mall just three miles from the Valley Forge Radisson with a 15th floor dedicated to fantasy suites, of which one, The Star Gazer, was a setting in Blue Valentine.
If you stripped away the burgundy arch and oversized lanterns near the entrance, and swapped some wood for metal, Seasons 52's facade isn't radically different in style from Elements, the foodie destination restaurant in Princeton. (Also, I think that I could be one-half of that couple, if I were ten years older and took a very slightly different path in life–one that involved marrying a man who wears light denim.)
Not a chain restaurant.
A Saturday at 7pm demanded a one-and-half-hour wait, though the first-come seat-yourself lounge had a spacious booth wide open up for grabs. And it took a few seconds to register that, not only was that not the Sade version of “Smooth Operator,” filling the packed room, but that it was being belted out just a few feet away by a young-yet-mature blonde woman sitting at a piano inside of the ovoid bar.
Ok, live music, a roaring fire, chunky mid-century stone, and metal cocktail shakers placed in front of a good number of patrons? Classy.
And on-trend with a seasonal menu with specials that change weekly (hence the name, duh) and no dish with more than 475 calories. Playing up the mainstreaming interest in food-sourcing with a nod to portion control is not a common combination in the chain food world. And clearly, it's striking a chord with suburbanites based on the crowds.
The cocktails (yes, wine is their focus, not spirits) still read very middle-American, i.e. a list of typically fruity and sweet "martinis." Of course, that shouldn't stop anyone from just ordering a simple stiff drink if that's what they want. I did.
Flatbreads are like crackery pizzas; taking out the chew and the squish is one way to slash calories. This was a special with goat cheese, artichoke hearts, and caramelized onions, an ok enough snack. I would've liked some Kalamata olives on this, but with the cheese that would certainly break the 475-calorie-limit. Frankly, I wasn't hungry after an afternoon of cheesesteak and Italian sandiwch sampling–I just wanted a drink and something light.
The Columbia River steelhead trout atop arugula, chopped vegetables, shrimp, and couscous isn't the type of thing I normally order at restaurants, well, because it read as very healthy, but completely pleasant. The fish was still moist (yes, I know everyone hates that word), the cilantro-spiked yogurt sauce was a fine addition, and the grilled lemon added a little visual interest as well as more acid.
I was told by our server that this dish "doesn't taste like trout," despite showing no skepticism of that poor fish. “It tastes more like salmon,” I was further reassured. Clearly, people in King of Prussia hate trout, though I probably wouldn't bring up my trout defense with a group of diners unless prompted. It almost made me want to complain about the trout being too fishy after ordering it, just to get a reaction.
The food had a familiar quality to me, and James pegged it: "It's like Cooking Light recipes." Sure enough, the petite lean proteins bulked up with vegetables, yogurt mimicking cream sauces, juices adding flavor instead of fats, did resemble our not terribly exciting (though not bad tasting) weeknight dinners.
And there's the rub. I do tend to make lighter food during the week to balance out more decadent meals out, maybe one weeknight and over the weekend (I wish I was one of those bloggers who eats out every night of the week, but my health can't afford it even if my finances could) and when I do go out to restaurants I don't necessarily want to continue my dietary austerity. But I do love the novelty in this franchised form and it makes sense for these higher-income pockets of the suburbs. It wouldn't as well in a bigger city where eating healthy is less of a struggle, heirloom vegetables and heritage meat are in abundance, and plates rarely come piled with enough food for multiple meals. It's not as if Seasons 52 could compete with ABC Kitchen.
There's also a Maggiano's (on my to-try list–it's a fancier Olive Garden, right?) that looks like a mansion in the parking lot. Also, why is Maggiano’s always near a Crate & Barrel?
Seasons 52 * King of Prussia Mall, 160 N Gulph Rd., King of Prussia, PA