First Taste

New low-calorie, high-end chain restaurant tries to measure up to Houston's foodie powers

Houston's new low-fat, high-end chain restaurant tries to measure up

Seasons 52 restaurant Houston May 2013 exterior night
The striking exterior at night Photo courtesy of Seasons 52
Seasons 52 restaurant Houston May 2013 Tower of Mini Indulgences is Seasons 52's alternative to a birthday cake
Tower of Mini Indulgences is Seasons 52's alternative to a birthday cake. Photo by Darla Guillen
Seasons 52 bar Houston May 2013 interior
Traditional cocktails and infused vodkas are alternativea to the comprehensive wine list. Photo courtesy of Seasons 52
Seasons 52 restaurant Houston May 2013 Organic cedar plank salmon and lemongrass sea scallop
Organic cedar plank salmon and lemongrass sea scallop Photo by Darla Guillen
Seasons 52 bar Houston May 2013 chateau wine cellar
Seasons 52 will feature 100 options of wine by the bottle and more than 60 by the glass. Photo courtesy of Seasons 52
Seasons 52 restaurant Houston May 2013 exterior night
Seasons 52 restaurant Houston May 2013 Tower of Mini Indulgences is Seasons 52's alternative to a birthday cake
Seasons 52 bar Houston May 2013 interior
Seasons 52 restaurant Houston May 2013 Organic cedar plank salmon and lemongrass sea scallop
Seasons 52 bar Houston May 2013 chateau wine cellar

It’s easy to snub your nose at chain restaurants if you’re living in a city with an ever-expanding presence of critically acclaimed restaurants and mom-and-pop shops that we all love to support. That’s not to say that every chain restaurant serves subpar food, in fact, one Houston newcomer is bringing a decent spread of well thought-out options.

Seasons 52 is the latest restaurant from The Darden Group, the same company that owns The Olive Garden and Red Lobster chains. Seasons 52 is to their list of establishments what Banana Republic is to The Gap: The more sophisticated affiliate. The Seasons 52 name comes from an inside menu panel of feature items that changes weekly— 52 times a year. The entire menu changes every season.

With other Texas locations in Dallas and Plano, the first Houston Seasons 52 is the 31st overall in the country. It's at 4410 Westheimer, near Highland Village, in the new Millennium High Street development. The location fits in with the chain's approach to opening in upscale areas. More new Seasons 52 are also set to open in CityCentre and the Woodlands.

 Each item on the menu is under 475 calories a pop. That's surprising when you take into account that the serving sizes are generous but not excessive. 

The well-polished operation flew in master sommelier George Miliotes, who oversees the Seasons 52 wine list, for the chain's Houston debut.

One of only 200 master sommeliers in the country, Miliotes put together a wine menu that offers 100-plus bottle options and more than 60 by-the-glass options. The list is designed to pair with a food menu that offers vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free and low sodium options.

And while each server has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the food and its nutritional value, there’s only one paramount nutritional fact you should remember: Each item on the menu is under 475 calories a pop. That's surprising when you take into account that the serving sizes are generous but not excessive.

Our media dinner offered up abbreviated portions for the sake of tasting, but they included all of the menu highlights, including artichoke and goat cheese and chipotle shrimp flatbreads. Each flatbread will be 475 calories or less, for the entire board. The shrimp was standard, but the sauces in both breads was flavorful despite the low-cal aspect — perhaps because Seasons 52 the bread's cooked in a brick oven.

 The Seasons 52 name comes from an inside menu panel of feature items that changes weekly— 52 times a year. 

The cedar plank salmon was served with whole-roasted sweet carrots, asparagus, and, for the sake of tasting, a caramelized sea scallop. The scallop was perfectly cooked, so the texture was fine, but it might be too sweet for a savory entree, especially since it will be served with tomato and mushroom pasta, rather than a spicy component that could have offset the sweetness.

Although Miliot joked that it was less fun finding a wine to pair to a salad, the leafy greens of this Seasons 52 salad were coated with a cumin lime vinaigrette and grilled golden beets which packed enough flavor to pick up citrus notes form the King Estate Pinot Gris.

The ravioli is another touted menu option, but one I didn't find particularly flavorful. That might be because goat cheese was more pronounced than the basil and garlic.

However, it was followed up by a mesquite-grilled strip steak and quail over sweet mashed potatoes and roasted onion jus. This is where the restaurant will set itself apart from your standard chain restaurant. The wood-fire grilled steak packed enough flavor to make you forget that the pink-tinged, perfectly flavored strips of steak are low-calorie.

To keep the calorie count in check, the dessert portion is a set of what Seasons 52 calls Mini Indulgences, one-cup portions of popular desserts and flavors, including key lime pie, rocky road, red velvet, cannoli with mousse and peanut butter. These were all well-executed and satisfying (I might have been teased about the number of half-empty glasses on my placemat) — but they didn’t live up to the upscale offerings on the entree menu or the carefully-chosen wine list.

Still, I’d recommend the pecan pie cup if you only choose one indulgence.