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1770 E. Higgins Road, Schaumburg
(847) 517-5252, seasons52.com
Cuisine: Contemporary American with a focus on local, seasonal ingredients
Setting: Earthy yet elegant rooms with open kitchen
Dinner entrees: $14.95 to $26.95
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Ripe plum tomatoes and roasted garlic topping a crisp flatbread, corn kernels floating in a sweet broth, bright raspberries mingling with creamy gorgonzola and organic baby spinach.
When I close my eyes I can almost taste again my recent dinner at Seasons 52 in Schaumburg. The finely crafted cuisine synced with the lively atmosphere and attentive service to create a fabulous experience.
Seasons 52 opened in May a stones throw from the spankin' new Whole Foods Market and super-sized Crate and Barrel. Frankly, Seasons 52 could be their offspring with its locally grown, often-organic ingredients and solid, modern, earth-friendly decor.
The space bears no resemblance to its previous occupant, Bennigan's. Vibrant awnings and kitschy accents have been replaced by cut rock, rich woods and earthy tones. The main dining area has plenty of elbow room and a view into the stainless steel work space and fiery stoves where chefs prep and cook.
The lounge adds room for about 100 more patrons with comfy booths rimming the room and chairs for another 30 at the bar where a piano player entertains in the evenings.
The crowd is decidedly adult; there's an intriguing menu of fruit-infused cocktails and a New World-leaning wine list (including a few organic labels) that won a nod from Wine Spectator magazine in 2009.
The menu at this Darden product (Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Bahama Breeze) has won accolades from national restaurant mags as well, and certainly did well by this palate. The first Seasons 52 opened in Orlando in 2003, and this year alone 10 restaurants have opened, or are close to opening, across the country.
While the seasonally changing menu concept has taken off nationally, a good deal of the ingredients are local - maybe not from the farmstand on Schaumburg's west side, but from Illinois' Midwestern neighbors.
The season's bounty is featured throughout the menu, like on the aforementioned flatbread and the tomato tapenade, an interesting interpretation of this usually olive appetizer that wasn't quite as spreadable as we were expecting but tasty just the same. Sweet corn plays into ethereal soups as well as salads and a soft polenta that accompanies the wood-roasted pork tenderloin. Salads, in either side or entree sizes, come with tempting combinations including barbecued chicken, corn (again) spinach, roasted peppers and blue cheese or lemon grass-scented salmon with grilled pineapple, jicima and toasted sesame dressing.
You could create a satisfying tapas-style meal sharing a few of the flatbreads, appetizers or salads with friends, but keep in mind that while the entire menu boasts no items weighing in at more than 475 calories, the count can add up. And you will want dessert.
The menu doesn't play favorites when it comes to protein, offering an equal number of creations from the land and from the sea. The ingredients for the entrees do come from farther afield: the chicken from Georgia, moist breasts rubbed with bright lemon and served alongside golden beets and crunchy wild rice, and New Zealand lamb (which commands the menu's top price at $26.95).
Season's 52 offers daily specials as well, like the cobia featured on my visit. I'd never had this firm-fleshed marine fish before and found chef John State's gently seasoned, seared preparation a wonderful introduction.
Now, getting back to dessert. I think this was my favorite part of the meal. Seasons 52's mini indulgences are brilliant! Served in tall shot glasses, the desserts are just the right size to satisfy our craving for something sweet without busting our buttons. The Michigan blueberries bursting into creamy cheesecake and the crunchy pecan-topped rich vanilla mousse left us pleasantly sated.
If you can't decide between the Belgian chocolate rocky road, the old-fashioned carrot cake or fresh fruit, let Seasons 52 decide for you. Friend the restaurant at Facebook.com and take a quiz to determine which dessert fits you best.