as the summer ends and we bury those loved ones we’ve lost to the intense florida heat, the leaves turn slightly less green, the temperature drops to a brisk 82 degrees, and stars enter their ominous autumnal positions. thus begins fall, and along with the seasonal change comes the change of menus at seasons 52. finally, we can embrace the cozy food stylings of pumpkins and apples, cinnamon and cinna mon.
once again, i was invited out to the special “num num super tasting ‘012″ event, to sample all the delicious foods and drinks, as imagineered by our favorite wacky duo, chef clifford pleau and wineman george miliotes. they were in good spirits, as ever, ending their pre-food presentation with pleau treating us to a special rendition of the major-general’s song, with particular phrases replaced by rhyming food references, and miliotes drinking heavily, slumped in a corner just off camera for the majority of the performance. sadly, sexy crowd favorite enrique iglesias was not available for his endorsement.
we began the evening, as always, with a bunch of flatbread and wine to get us ready for… lots more wine and food. the flatbread this time around was the portobello mushroom flatbread, flavor-blasted with all the cheese (specifically, gorgonzola, mozzarella, and blue cheese). there was also garlic and truffle cream. the mushrooms were nice and tender, and the garlic was pretty great (a clear and strong player), but the flatbread was a bit overwhelmed by the cheese, specifically the blue cheese. i just can’t take too much blue cheese! it just ruins my day. not their best flatbread; that title still belongs to the barbecue chicken flatbread.
the wine we began with was the vista hills orange pinot gris, an interesting, full flavor wine which i cannot seem to find anywhere outside of seasons 52 (internet, thou hast failed me). this guy was an intense, tart, acidic beast almost reminiscent of my father’s homemade wines. it also had the magic touch; that is, the more you drink it, the more the intensity drops, and the more you enjoy it! always a good sign.
we were also treated to a delightful pair of hummusi, the “double hummus special” as i’m pretty sure they called it. there was a roasted red pepper, and a green edamame mint. i had the clear foresight to note the edamame mint was “fatty, wet” and the red pepper was “spiced, good, simple clean”. so, rather than getting bogged down in flavors and taste, let’s say the clear winner here was the edamame mint for being green.
our meal began with the cider-glazed grilled chicken skewers, which instantly appealed to me. what we have here, if you’re not able to see or infer from the name of the dish, is meat on a stick. meat on a stick, as we all know, was the ORIGINAL meal, as invented by keyrock selmon, cave man and master chef. it is simple and effective. this variant featured a lightly applied savory sweet mustard/cider glaze on moist, tender chicken, grilled, and set atop a tart bed of apple/cranberry/pumpkin slaw. it was an excellent combination, and really worked for me. the slaw was a great contrast to the chicken, both in consistency and flavor. the only thing i could ask of it is more glaze on the chicken.
the skewers were paired with the farrier andiron semillon, which was a nice tart and fruity wine, and a bit sweet. it seemed to be on the brink sparkling, and played well against the chicken (though not an intensely special pairing by any means).
next was the maple leaf farms sesame duck salad. now, i love duck. lord love a duck. duck is the bird king. so i basically, by default, had to love this salad. and they did not make that hard for me. the dressing was amazing, a spicy/sweet ginger sesame, providing a mild slow, lasting burn. the duck – delicious, tender and juicy, practically a beef steak, and not oily (as some duck can be). there were pecans, giving it a nice nuttiness. overall impression: this is a great, spicy salad, all parts in a perfect balance.
the salad was accompanied by avanthia godello, a light, crisp, sparkling white wine. the wine was alright, but did not really blow me away at all, and again the pairing with the salad was pleasant but nothing illuminating.
and then they brought out this – the piedmontese steak! a fine addition to the autumn menu. it is a great piece of meat, as i explained last time i reviewed seasons 52. long and short of it – it’s a good steak and it’s healthy. and that’s the reason they kept it for this season’s menu from last season. BUT. i wish they had just stuck it on their regular menu and put something else on their seasonal menu. because that’s the whole point of having a constantly changing menu! not that steak doesn’t work any time of the year, any time of the day, but it’s just a missed opportunity. and unless the species of cattle responsible for this steak is quickly going extinct, it doesn’t really need to be stuck on any sort of limited-time list.
the wine was tilia bonarda, velvety smooth, nicely dry red. almost too dry on the finish, but not so much to ruin it. just lovely.
however, there was one difference between the steak this time and last – the sides. before, and as pictured with the steak, the sides consisted of asparagus and fingerling potatoes. but when brought out in group portions, the sides change to what’s shown above: mashed sweet potatoes and “broccolini”, which is a corporate name (it is generically referred to as “baby broccoli”, despite the fact that it is not baby anything). it is a hybrid between what we know as standard broccoli, and the chinese kai-lan, some leafy thing. i had never seen or heard of this monstrosity before, so this is all news to me. the result of the melding? nothing special. the flavor is broccoli meets asparagus in a boring explosion of meh. the sweet potatoes, however, were delightful, fluffy and deliciously sweet (but nothing over the top). it was a really solid side, and a good choice to bring this dish somewhat in line with my autumnal expectations.
and our final contender for the evening was the exciting manchester farms all-natural grilled quail (seasons 52 apparently prides itself on name dropping). it’s quail! grilled quail. little bird. similar to pigeon. i like the idea. it’s beautiful. a fancy bird, for sure. but… they went a bit crazy on the seasoning here. the bird is a tiny thing, so much so that just eating it and maintaining some semblance of dignity is a difficult task for anyone who might call themselves a “food monster”, and it seems to really take on the flavor of anything that touches it. it was salted and given a balsamic glaze, but all i got was salt. the meat was tender, and i’m sure nice, but it was so salty that i was reminded of KFC’s fried chicken. and that is not a good thing.
however, it was accompanied by an awesome risotto, soft savory and warm, with a wonderful mushroom and garlic flavor. sweet chef pleau was totally flipping out over this risotto, punctuating its introduction in the webcast by jumping into a kiddie pool full of the dish, and crying as he rubbed it into his face. and he was right to – it was amazing. as i’ve said before, risotto just has a feel good, home-cooked aura about it, like a comfort food. always good. there was also sauteed spinach, which is another kind of homey-type food, which was nice and light, though the onions wee a bit mushy, which truly enraged me.
and instead of one wine, we were treated to two distinctly different reds, the michael david petite petit, and the glenelly cabernet sauvignon. each provided and example of a style, the former new world, and the latter old world (possibly spelled ‘worlde’). both were good wines. surprisingly, they each started up rather similarly, with a deep, dark fruitiness, but they finished on completely opposite ends of the spectrum. the petite petit was a bit smoother and sweeter, with only a slightly dry finish, and a bit of an astringent edge. the cabernet sauvignon was much a more serious, dry and intense finish, which i definitely preferred. neither had a significant interaction with the quail.
and, as always, we finish with the mini indulgence desserts. the new addition for fall was something just short of the food of the gods: pumpkin pie. accompanied by two gingersnap cookies (one on top, and one plopped in the center to ensure cookie throughout), the pumpkin pie was spot on, a bit smoother than a real pie, but the precise flavor. the ginger snaps, not too hard but not too soft, played against the sweet pie and whipped topping extremely well, and brought out the spices in the pumpkin. i also had the german chocolate cake, which was super rich and had beautiful toasted coconut. the indulgences are always extraordinary.
coming away from the evening, i felt a bit let down. of course, all the food was enjoyable, and the duck salad and chicken skewers were particularly good, but i can’t help but feel the season was not nearly as well articulated through the food as it ordinarily is. which is disappointing, as fall is my favorite season. pumpkin pie, hot apple cider, butternut squash soup… turkey?? the holy grail of food holidays right at the end of fall! and i was disappointed by the reappearance of the steak, despite the fact that it’s delicious. and the wine pairing, for me at least, never seemed as impressive as my first visit in spring, when each wine shed new light on every dish. nevertheless, a good evening, always a good time, at a good restaurant.