Last Saturday I was invited to a special food and dining blogger preview lunch at the new Seasons 52 restaurant at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa. I knew ahead of time that there would be a special tasting menu with wine pairings and a cooking demo, but I had no idea how lavish and spectacular a dining and photo opportunity I was about to experience. I knew that the Senior Culinary Director, Cliff Pleau, had worked with fellow CIA alum Bradley Ogden in the early days at Lark Creek Inn in Marin County; had opened the California Grill at Disneyland Paris; and done a stint as personal chef to Luciano Pavarotti. But I had no idea how delicious and beautiful the food I was to eat would be. Nor how visually stunning the interior space was with its rich wood accents, ledgestone and abstract art works.
This 300-seat restaurant, with an open kitchen, large circular piano bar, and large outdoor patio, is reminiscent of houses designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, with art deco burnished wood angularity. When I walked in I was totally surprised, because the outside of the restaurant is typical Southern California. I arrived an hour early and was given the royal tour by the President of Seasons 52, Stephen Judge. Previously he was vice president for food and beverage for the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas, led food and beverage operations for Rosewood Hotel and Resorts, and spent 11 years in senior management for Princess Cruises and Premier Cruise Lines. And this was the guy walking me around his beloved restaurant explaining about the bar chairs that rotate 360 degrees, the little hooks around under the bar to hang hand bags on, the wine glasses that are specially made with titanium in the glass so they don’t break as often, and showing me the Chef’s Table in its own alcove with the huge lazy-susan in the center. He said after gutting the previous restaurant, it had taken them six months to build-out the present interior. It was abundantly clear that these guys really know what they are doing.
In the photo above you can see how the tables were set for us bloggers, with a full set of wine glasses at each table setting. They set up the tables in a U-shape and in the center Chef Pleau had a table where he did his cooking demos and talked to us about the food. We got a look at the menu and I was pleasantly surprised to see the Flatbreads ranged in price from 4.95-9.95; Appetizers 5.75-11.25; Entrée Salads 12.75-15.95; Fish & Seafood 16.75-22.95; Poultry & Meat 15.95-26.95; and Mini Indulgences 2.75 each. Now, this is reasonable.
We started the event on the patio with Champagne and the Shrimp, Pineapple and Feta Flatbread, which was quickly followed by the Fig, Bacon, Mint and Arugula Flatbread. They were cut in little triangle shapes for easy handling. Mr. Judge explained that every item on the menu is under 475 calories and they cook with no butter or oils. There is no deep-frying and the dishes feature wood-fire grilling and brick oven cooking. The menu is market-driven 52 weeks a year and changes with each season. Hence the name, Seasons 52. He said what they have is great tasting food that happens to be good for you.
We were seated and were served this little crab amuse bouche, which had a quenelle of guacamole on a bed of pico de gallo. So dainty, and hinting at what was to come. This was served with a Rose wine.
Here you can see Chef Pleau on the left at his demonstration table. On the right is Executive Chef Tim Kast, who will be in charge of the kitchen on a daily basis, preparing our dishes in the open kitchen. Chef Pleau said there is an important trick when cooking on a cedar plank. You should soak it in water for 24 hours, then either spray or paint it thoroughly with oil, otherwise the plank will suck all the juices out of the fish.
Up to this point the food had been familiar and tasty, but when the server placed the Salmon and Scallop on a Cedar Plank in front of me, I had to gasp! It was so beautiful and smelled sublime. I was compelled to photograph it from every angle and even placed it on the table behind me that was closer to the window, for better light. I almost didn’t want to eat it, because it was so gorgeous. Chef Pleau said we were served smaller portions than the actual dishes that will be served in the restaurant. He said the salmon dish will come with six scallops speared with lemon grass, plus the asparagus shavings, yellow beats, charred onion ring and green beans. The sauce was a vegetable stock glaze which was thickened with arrowroot. We had a Chardonnay with the Salmon.
As a palate cleanser, the next course was the Earthbound Farm Organic Greens Salad with Oak-Grilled Mushrooms and Truffle Dressing. The smell of the truffle oil wafting from the salad was just amazing. The white squiggle around the edge is non-fat sour cream infused with truffle oil. While we enjoyed our salad, Chef Pleau demonstrated his recipe for the Truffle Dressing, which he said he calls TEN, because there are five ingredients and 2 ounces each of blond miso, meyer lemon juice, white truffle oil, olive oil, and soy sauce (or tamari). He put them into a squeeze bottle, shook it well and said it was ready to go. We had a Pinot Noir with the salad.
If you are a goat cheese aficionado, then the next course would have transported you to heaven. The Sonoma Goat Cheese Ravioli with Roasted Garlic, Basil in a Light Tomato Broth was lovely to behold. As we ate, Chef Pleau demonstrated how he makes the ravioli by mixing the goat cheese with basil, flattens a dollop of it, places it between two egg roll wrappers which are sealed with Egg Beaters. They are simmered for 1-2 minutes in a roasted garlic broth. Here is the recipe. During all this eating and drinking, all of the bloggers were standing up and photographing their food, placing it on chairs or other tables to get better shots. It was quite different from your normal dining experience. We were poured a Chianti Classico, which was really good with the goat cheese.
I thought I had had my peak experience of the day with the Salmon on a Cedar Plank, so when I was served the Mesquite-Grilled Lamb Rack and Quail Breast with Mini Bok Choi, I felt like I had died and gone to heaven. Under the lamb was a quenelle of mashed sweet potatoes which were mixed with a little sour cream and maple syrup. The dish was served with a bourbon chili sauce with maple syrup and sriracha, and a drizzle of mint pesto. I love lamb, so this made me very happy. We sere served two wines with this course, a Petite Sirah and a South African Stellenbosch.
Well, you can imagine we were absolutely stuffed by this time, so the Mini Indulgences for desert were perfect. We were told to sample which ever ones we fancied, so I chose Chocolate Mousse, Key Lime Pie and Fresh Fruit. With this course we were served a wonderful sweet dessert wine, a Reisling Auslese.
I predict that this restaurant will be jam-packed at all times from the moment it opens and eventually you will have to make your reservation a month ahead of time. I’m just saying. Thank you Stephen Judge and Chef Pleau for inviting me to this luncheon, and wining and dining me in such a splendid fashion. And I look forward to seeing Seasons 52 becoming one of the premier dining destinations in Southern California. Bravo!
South Coast Plaza
3333 Bristol Avenue
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Phone: (714) 437-5252