by Len Lear
Our recent visit to Seasons 52 in King of Prussia definitely did not start out auspiciously. While driving on the Schuylkill Expressway, shortly before approaching the King of Prussia exit, we heard a loud rumbling noise that sounded like chirruping crows or maybe a helicopter directly overhead. Since we did not see a helicopter (or crows) when we looked out the window and the noise persisted, we knew it could not be good. Before you know it, worst case scenario. The right front tire basically exploded, and pieces of rubber shattered in all directions. This was not a flat tire; it was rubber confetti by the time we limped over to the side of the road on three tires and one wheel.
Believe it or not, we do not have a cell phone (we’re among the 15 percent of Americans who don’t), but my wife does have a Trac Phone, which is strictly for emergencies, so we were able to call AAA. (Otherwise, we might still be sitting in our car on the Expressway.) We could not even get out of the car on the driver’s side because the car was so close to the endless armada of assault weapons speeding by.
To our delight, it only took about 20 minutes for the AAA guy to show up, and after another 10 or 15 minutes, we were on our way. We did call Seasons 52 while waiting for AAA to let them know we would definitely be late. (The following day my wife took the car into Carfagno Chevrolet, where we go for service, and spent $760 for four new tires.)
We finally arrived at Seasons 52 at least a half-hour late, but the place was so packed that we had to wait about 15 minutes more to be seated. We have eaten at this Seasons 52 twice and one in Cherry Hill once, and it’s obvious to me that someone forgot to tell their customers that there is a recession going on. We were told that the one in K of P can seat 400 people on two floors, and both times we were there, you could barely squeeze a toothpick into the beehive of customers at the bar and in the dining rooms, at least on the first floor, which seats 265.
The crowd at the bar reminded me of the attractive young people you see in a Bud Light TV commercial who appear to be having more fun than real-life people are allowed to. When I asked Alex Elshimy, assistant managing partner, how Seasons 52 is able to defy the recession, he replied, “We cater to guests one on one, not like a chain. You come in here once, you’re family. That is the secret of success in the restaurant business.” In other words, friendly service is so integral to Seasons 52 that if they had a bird bath out front, it would probably have a jacuzzi in it.
Alex’s comments sound like the usual management clichés, but I must say that at Seasons 52 you are never treated like chewing gum on the bottom of their shoes. In fact, our server, a handsome, charming just-married hunk named Amine Belahbib, who waited on us more than a year ago, actually remembered some of the drinks and food we ordered back then. Amazing. This guy should be a contestant on Jeopardy.
Seasons 52 is a national chain. The first one opened in Orlando, FL, in 2003, and there are now 20 (with 10 more in the planning stages), including the King of Prussia location (previously occupied by Bennigan’s) that opened in April of 2010. The “52” refers to the fact that in addition to the regular menu that changes four times a year, there is a new list of specials every week. The basic concept of Seasons 52, however, is one reason why they are crowded all the time. No dish on the menu, from the signature flatbreads and appetizers to the entrees and “mini-indulgence” desserts, has more than 475 calories.
It seems to me that Seasons 52 has found that dining sweet spot where culinary creativity, a stunning physical location, unalloyed charm and unpretentious service coalesce. If the road to success is always under construction, Seasons 52 is at least driving in the right direction.
Executive chef Anne Moriarta, who first made her bones as a horsewoman in Chester County, is a furnace of talent and passion, and it’s hard not to give in to her food’s gravitational pull. The flatbreads are a major attraction at Seasons 52, and with good reason. A Greek lamb gyro flatbread ($9.95) and ripe plum tomato flatbread ($8) had flavors that echoed in our senses. A sushi-grade Ahi tuna appetizer, seared rare and served with Asian cucumber salad and sesame chips ($11.95),was simply divine. We bathed in the voluptuous delight of a cedar plank roasted salmon, which created a perfect storm of texture and flavors with roasted carrots, fresh asparagus and red bliss potatoes, a bargain at $18. Two mini-indulgences — chocolate peanut butter mousse and pecan pie with vanilla mousse — toed the line between really good and exceptionally good and had us wondering how they keep the calories within reason ($2.50 each).
The first cocktail we had, a Strawberry Basil Fusion Martini ($11.85), was strong enough to peel paint off the wall. The only joker in the deck for me was in some of the wine prices. I thought that both the Mer Soleil Chardonnay and the Allegrini Palazzo Della Torre were nothing special and way overpriced at $17 and $14.50, respectively, by the glass. On the other hand, a Faithful Hound Cabernet from South Africa, was complex, intense, full-bodied, had a lingering after-taste and was worth every penny of its $14.50 tariff.
The overall experience at Seasons 52 is like feeling the words as well as the music. Food like this makes one not want to go gentle into that good night of mediocrity. For more information or reservations, call 610-992-1152 or visit www.seasons52.com.