NAPLES — In the Seasons 52 Fresh Grill house of dining well, management and staff like to say that their flatbreads and Mini Indulgences desserts are their signature bookends to a healthy meal.
With the recent opening of the new Seasons 52 next to the Mercato in North Naples, we recently tested that theory and found indeed that the two cornerstone culinary aspects were the highlights of our meals.
But in all fairness, I must also mention that one of the specialties from the martini menu makes even a better way to start dinner. Like all other items on the seasonally changing, brand-wide menu, they slide in under 475 calories each – as little as 110, in fact.
Disappointed that they were out of the Mandarin Orange Cosmopolitan (they marinate oranges in Hanger One Mandarin Orange Blossom vodka for a week, and mix it with Patron Citronge; and it's their most popular martini, our server explained), I warily moved onto the Skinny Raspberry Chocolatini – wary because it sounded dessert-ish.
But true to its name, it was not sugar-laden, lightly sweetened with organic agave nectar and mixed with Voli Light Raspberry Cocoa vodka and ZICO chocolate coconut water.
We also sampled the Superfruit Martini with Veev acai spirit, pomegranate-blueberry juice, and the agave nectar. Who knew martinis could be so healthful? They also seemed to be lower in alcohol content than traditionals.
Low sugar content is one way the restaurant keeps its caloric meter in check. At first you may think you miss it, but then you realize you're actually tasting the full flavor of the food product.
Take for instance, the mashed sweet potato that sided our two entrees. A natural autumn seasonal component, its sweetness came largely from the tuber itself, perhaps with a bit of the agave nectar they're fond of here.
So you "get" the Seasons part of the name: The menu changes four times annually. The 52? There's a side panel that changes 52 times a year – weekly in other words.
We chose a flatbread and one entrée from the Seasons part and another entrée from the 52 panel.
Our server recommended the steak-and-cremini mushroom flatbread, which I had previously tried at the Seasons 52 in Coral Gables. George Miliotes, the master sommelier at the Orlando headquarters for Darden Restaurants, which owns the brand, had earlier told me not to miss the shrimp chipotle style.
I'm happy I listened. The flatbreads come rolled out in a long strip about 4 inches wide, grill-fired and cut in triangles. One is plenty for two to share.
On the shrimp flatbread, bits of pineapple, feta and roasted poblano peppers made it impossible to leave one piece standing. On the weekly changing menu sidebar, artichoke and goat cheese flatbread starred.
Miliotes also highlighted the goat cheese ravioli as a must-try appetizer. Options other than flatbread roam the planet with organic salads, tandoori chicken skewers, and a tasty, boldly spiced chicken relleno.
A constant on the fairly succinct entrée menu, the cedar plank-roasted salmon is also signature. Miliotes recommends upgrading to the organic salmon. (The restaurant uses organic products in salads and wherever else feasible.)
Our valet told us we shouldn't miss the caramelized sea scallops, another element of what Seasons 52 folks call the "core menu" – along with wood-roasted pork tenderloin and oak-grilled filet mignon.
The lunch menu features many of the same items, along with a grilled buffalo burger and sandwiches such as grilled chicken Caesar.
In case you haven't caught on, grilling is another way the kitchen keeps calories low (no deep-fryers in this kitchen).
We went instead with a seasonal boneless quail entrée with bourbon and raisin glaze and blackened mahi with a fresh-tasting roasted pepper pico de gallo.
From its well-chosen menu of wines by the glass and bottle, we picked a light, refreshing Indaba (South African) chardonnay, poured tableside.
Freshly sautéed green beans added another dose of health to the clean, mouth-burst flavors. But we had filled up somewhat on flatbread and were distracted by the tray of chunky dessert parfaits that kept passing.
Time for a Mini Indulgence we knew, but which to pick? Downsized to stick within its guidelines, the desserts pack just the right amount of post-dinner punch to satisfy.
"The point of Seasons 52 is as much to influence the industry," corporate executive chef Clifford Pleau told me. "The desserts really did that 10 to 12 years ago."
Relaxed in the wood smoke-scented atmosphere of fire and low lights, we polished off a carrot cake and chocolate peanut butter swirl.
If the crowds on a Thursday night in October, four days after opening, are any indication, this place is beginning as well as its martinis and flatbread.
Seasons 52 Fresh Grill
Where: 8930 U.S. 41 N. (near Vanderbilt Beach Road), North Naples
Prices: Lunch starters $4.35-$7.65, entrees $8.35-$19.95; dinner starters $4.35-$12, entrees $12-$26.
Information: (239) 594-8852; www.seasons52.com