First Impressions: With Seasons 52, farm-to-fork heads to the mall

Published: Friday, Mar. 22, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 31TICKET

First Impressions visits dining spots in the region that are new or have undergone recent transitions. Have a candidate for First Impressions? Email us at taste@sacbee.com.

Seasons 52 Fresh Grill

1685 Arden Way No. 1065 (Arden Fair mall), Sacramento

(916) 922-5252,

www.seasons52.com

Seasons 52 opened at the Arden Fair mall in late January, occupying a prominent spot at the front of the popular retail complex. It's part of a nationwide chain owned and operated by the same company that runs Olive Garden.

The large restaurant, which is open for lunch and dinner, offers an approachable yet sophisticated fresh and seasonal dining concept, a.k.a. farm to fork, along with a strong emphasis on its wine list.

Another noteworthy aspect? Everything on the menu is 475 calories or less. Since most of us are either trying to lose weight or doing our best not to gain it, it's an idea that should appeal to many diners.

Menu: It changes according to the seasons. When we visited, for example, it was the last week of the winter menu. The seasonal offerings are intended to highlight ingredients available at that time of year.

Beyond that, there is a smaller menu along the right-hand column that changes weekly, thus the name Seasons 52.

The flatbreads, available with several toppings, are a popular feature and are much like a poor man's thin-crust pizza. There are four small salads, five main-course salads, and full entrees include poultry, seafood and beef.

There are also special menus available, including gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan.

Price point: The light and tasty flatbreads are around $10, main entrees are in the low to high $20s and the oh-so-tiny desserts are $2.50. Dinner for two with wine or beer will range $75 to $125.

Ambience: This large restaurant with a full bar has a traditional clubby décor featuring rich wood paneling and stone accents.

There is live music most nights.

Outdoor seating is available and the restaurant does a decent job of making you forget you're looking out at mall parking.

Drinks: Full bar, featuring an array of classic and seasonal cocktails, and a variety of martinis (including a chocolate and espresso martini that James Bond wouldn't be caught dead ordering).

The wine list is impressively balanced for price and style.

The craft beer selection is limited.

Service: We lucked out. Our server turned out to be the staff trainer and was outstanding. She knew menu details and could talk about the food and cooking with ease and enthusiasm. She was also adept at describing the wine and made pairing suggestions that were very good – a Rioja with the lamb dish and a California grenache with plank-roasted salmon.

Happy hour: "Flights and flats" every day from noon to 6 p.m., featuring three small pours of select wines, flatbreads and glasses of wine for $5 each.

First Impression: Can you have an inspired meal when everything on the menu is 475 calories or less? Only if you don't have great expectations. Our dinner ranged from good (the tasty shrimp chipotle flatbreads) to pretty good (salmon and lamb main dishes), with a bit of a "huh?" at meal's end when the minuscule desserts appeared. Turns out, if you want a dessert under 475 calories, it will be served in something only slightly larger than a thimble. The smallish piece of salmon was nicely prepared, though the roasted root vegetables and the asparagus were a bore. The tender lamb came with delicious and creamy truffle mashed potatoes and more of the asparagus, which was on the limp and overcooked side.

While Seasons 52 is part of a large and growing corporate-owned chain, it didn't suffer from a heavy-handed feeling or lack of spontaneity. We enjoyed the meal, however, nothing about the food wowed us.

Try it if: You're ready to embrace the seasonal farm-to-fork dining ethos that is deeply rooted in Sacramento and is apparently sweeping the nation.

Forget it if: You think there are plenty of locally owned restaurants that probably do farm-to-table far better.

Call The Bee's Blair Anthony Robertson, (916) 321-1099. Follow him on Twitter @Blarob.

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