Good heavens, Seasons 52. What did you do? What's with the 890-calorie steak dinner?
And the calorie postings right next to each menu item? Please change back to how you were.
Back in, say, 2005 or so, the original publicist for Seasons 52 invited me to lunch. The savvy dietitian-turned-spokesperson had read one of my write-ups about what was then a new concept for Darden Restaurants. While she appreciated the publicity, she indicated, she was afraid I'd put too much emphasis on the healthful aspect of the menu. She urged me to tone that down in the future.
Seasons 52 is a bustling yet refined restaurant concept. It serves trend-forward food that's presented attractively and offered with an impressive list of wines, many by the glass. That's how she wanted the restaurant to be portrayed.
Each dinner entree at that time was 475 calories or under. If readers saw Seasons 52 as a "diet restaurant," say, they'd keep away. That was the theory. If they saw it as an an attractive, food-fashionable spot with good menu choices and service, by contrast, they'd flock in and find the subtly promoted calorie limitations a bonus.
Led by the chef-creator Clifford Pleau, who has since moved on to Bonefish Grill, the culinary team had managed to serve full, absolutely enjoyable meals by shunning butter, spritzing olive oil instead of pouring it, and mastering culinary tricks like thickening lobster bisque with rice instead of heavy cream.
The plan worked. The original restaurant, on Orlando's Sand Lake Road, was packed nightly. The chain now has several dozen units, and it's still a good choice for a satisfying meal.
Last night, we snuggled into a comfy booth-for-two in the bar area, a mere few feet from the talented singer/piano player. We opened the menu and saw calorie counts after every single menu item. Nobody wants to see calorie counts when they're out for a nice dinner. What's more, at Seasons 52 we always just knew that any entree we choose will be a full, balanced, tasty meal that's 475 calories or less.
Only, now, the steak dinner is 890 calories, I saw. The lobster pappardelle is 760 calories. Start your meal with a 200-calorie spiked Meyer Lemonade, split a 430-calorie Roasted Roma Tomato flatbread or 470-calorie ahi tuna tartare, and you're no longer having a worry-free meal in a pretty setting.
To Seasons 52's credit, I'll assume the changes are due to two factors:
--Some governments are requiring calorie postings on menus.
Serving healthful, lowish-calorie meals in a thoroughly enjoyable setting, and not smashing that information into guests' minds, is why Seasons 52 has been so successful.
Darden Restaurants, please change the concept back to what it was.
Eat enthusiastically, Rona