Surprises. They happen every day and are around every corner. I think surprises are one of the most exciting parts about food. You can take one ingredient and prepare it many different ways. It can taste completely unique even if it is something that has been around for years.
So when I was invited to a preview luncheon at the new Season’s 52 opening May 21, 2012 in Oakbrook, IL. I wasn’t expecting any surprises. I already knew their seasonally inspired menu would be delicious. I knew that the dishes presented to me were going to be under 475 calories and yet full of flavor. And I figured that given it’s location in the luxurious Oakbrook Shopping Center, it would be beautiful.
But when I walked in the doors, I was surprised. (And no, the staff didn’t hid behind the podium and jump out at me and scream SURPRISE!) It was just so gorgeous!
The first thing that caught my eye is the chef’s table. The table is in view of the impressive kitchen so you get to see all of the talented chefs cooking. (To me watching the rhythm of a well-run kitchen is like watching well-done choreography.) But besides the awesome view, I could have just stared at table. The tabletop is framed so that there are squares of spices. The colors were so vibrant. I wasn’t sure if it was that “new restaurant” smell or if it was the table emitting an essence but it definitely invoked my senses.
The next thing that made me say wow was the private dining space. The large space could be broken into three separate rooms to accommodate multiple parties or the perfect size larger gatherings. Given it is wedding season, I instantly thought it would be a great space for rehearsal dinners or showers. It would also be a welcome change to some of the sterile meeting places for a work function. (The actual dining room is also beautiful and can accommodate over 300 guests.)
I finally made it into the bar. The bar has the unique quirk of having a live singer daily on a piano (electric) in the center of the actual bar service area. The space is open enough for you to see the entertainment but it doesn’t overpower your conversation. (I’m not a bar person but I loved the 360 degree stools that allows a lady on and off modestly.)
As I continued to walk through the restaurant, one word kept coming to mind…warm. There was genuine warmth that surrounded every corner.
Our actual lunch hosted by Chef Cliff Pleau, senior director of culinary, and George Miliotes, master sommelier was amazing (Chef Jason Klever will be the executive chef in Oakbrook and willing to share his own wealth of knowledge and skill.)
Each course was paired with a complimentary wine and George detailed each wine expertly. (The man is a walking thesaurus! He was able to describe wine in a way that I had never heard before.)
Chef Pleau discussed each course and explained in technically, meticulous detail how Season’s 52 is able to bring out the flavors while keeping it healthy. (I personally want to thank him for answering all of my questions. I learned so much and hope that he comes out with his own cookbook one of these days. He could call it Cliff Notes: 52 Ways to Eat Healthier. A small mention in the book will be thanks enough! ha ha )
Some of my top favorite bites of the afternoon were the Organic Salmon and the Lemongrass Sea scallop roasted on a cedar plank. The salmon was perfectly cooked and it was nice to taste the fish and not eat it covered in goopy sauce. (And thanks to Paula who sat next to me who let me eat her scallop because I just had to have more!) The surprise factor to me was the vegetable mélange of golden beets, red peppers and green beans. The veggies were crunchy and had absorbed some of the smokiness of the cedar.
We also enjoyed an organic field green salad with grilled Portobello mushrooms, toasted pistachios and truffle dressing. The salads are presented in a clear cylinder but then allowed to flow out of the container onto your plate. The visual surprise was almost outdone as the woodsy truffle smell hit your nose. (And the pistachio was a great alternative crunch element to the usual crouton or bacon served in salads.)
My final favorite was the Goat Cheese Ravioli with roasted garlic, basil and tomato broth. The light pasta was delicately tossed with fresh tomato broth so that you were able to taste each individual ingredient in its element. It is the kind of pasta you want on a warm day….or a cold day…or a day that ends in “y”.
Everything we ate was so great. I’m leaving out the Mesquite grilled sirloin, mashed sweet potatoes, bourbon chili glazed quail, and the great flatbreads but you can always go in and taste those yourself.
And as always, I saved a spot for a Mini Indulgence. I inhaled a raspberry cheesecake with fresh mango on top. It was just the right amount of sweet to end my meal.
Season’s 52 continues to grow with 22 restaurants in 13 states. After meeting Chef Pleau, I am confident that they will be staying true to their goal to serve healthy, flavorful seasonal food. (And George has all you wine lovers covered with over 100 different wines.)
I wish them nothing but sucess when they open on May 21 and hope to get in there again soon. The food is wonderful and will inspire you to change the way you cook and eat. (I just planted my garden so watch out for my inspired dishes!)