Memorial Day weekend seems to mark the beginning of events season in my life: weddings, birthdays, graduations, bbqs and even some quite spectacular divorce parties. Most of these require travel on my part; I know, the horror of escaping the oppressive Houston summer for a weekend.
This time I traveled for a birthday celebration to Cincinnati, OH; birthplace of one of my favourite bands, The National, and … well, I’m sure there’s some other stuff. The birthday venue was Seasons 52, which opened a location in the Galleria area of Houston 2 days before leaving for Cincinnati. It seems life is not without a sense of irony.
Even though Seasons 52 is a national chain, it is highly polished and it appears to have deflected the typical stigmata of chain restaurants. Both inside and out, Seasons is conservatively modern without clinging to any specific trend. What registered with me was the attention to customer experience. The interior is big and open but it has both floor and ceiling sound proofing, the groups of tables are spaced such that all groups can be seen but not heard; a feeling of intimacy while still maintaining a crowd connection.
In Cincinnati it was obviously an event destination and while very crowded, with a line of drop-ins piled up at the front, it maintained a sense of upbeat calm and I never felt pressured to hurry up and out.
This is obviously their calling card, since our service was flawless and the birthday was played up with a personalized card, group photo in a nice insert and a gratis selection of mini desserts.
Also, I have to give them a huge thumbs up for creating specific menus for vegetarians and vegans, we had some of both. This made the vegetarians/vegans very happy because they had many options for apps and entrees rather than the usual ho-hum side salad and grilled vegetables, which are really more of an afterthought than a premeditated menu item in most places.
The vegans and vegetarians raved but alas, I am a carnivore.
Strawberry Basil Martini: Clearly they need to make a reversal in the name since this was strongly a basil martini with strawberry accents. But what’s in a name, it was still fantastic! A strong basil simple syrup probably mixed with an handmade strawberry infused vodka since I did not detect the fake strawberry flavour typical of off-the-rack flavoured vodkas.
Lobster & Shrimp Spring Roll: Seasons has a regular menu and a seasonal menu; the seasonal menu changes weekly and this was from the seasonal side. I loved it. Done Vietnamese style, cold-wrapped in a rice paper with large chunks of both suspects from the sea, sprouts and possibly some jicama sliced impossibly thin. Crunchy and toothy with the bonus of three different dipping sauces. My favorite was the Thai Chili. No, wait, the Lemongrass Kefir Lime, scratch that, the Thai Chili. Definitely.
Copper River Salmon: Also from the seasonal side. Lightly seasoned and grilled atop fingerling potatoes, caramelized onions and grilled asparagus & corn. Incredible, eye-popping color in the salmon, a very deep, rich flavor which paired well with all of the other members on the plate. There really was no need for the accompanying dill bearnaise sauce but I tried it anyway – super rich, I used it more on the asparagus.
Mini Pecan Pie: Wow, feel the caramelized sugar coarse through your veins, the pecans, the butter, the crunch, the gooey. Good thing it was miniaturized, otherwise I would have needed a crash cart followed by an Epi stick. Absolutely a must should you be in the mood for a mini dessert. Note: I finished mine before I could take a picture so the photo is of my niece’s mini rocky-road.
I found it odd that there were no prices on the online menu since, to me, this is one of Seasons advantages. My salmon was the most expensive thing on the menu and it was $27. Our table of 5 with drinks, apps, entrees was $170, which I considered very reasonable.
I hear tell that Seasons 52 is an expense account venue, where the business types take their accounts for “serious discussions” and deal signings. I think the reason it has this rep is that it has great food, polished atmosphere and maintaining excellent service is a crucial aspect of their brand’s identity.
I’ll look forward to test driving the Houston location to see if it measures up to Cincinnati but so far, I like.