Last week I was at a convention in Orlando for almost a week. This was our fourth year in a row while I've also visited Orlando a number of times each year for business. All of these have involved numerous dinners with clients as well as some where I competed for a solo seat at a bar in a more popular restaurant. I also write a restaurant column for a trade publication but the purpose of this is not criticism; rather, just to highlight restaurants in the cities our 30,000 attended convention is in.
Seasons 52 is arguably Orlando's-and Florida's-hottest restaurant right now. Owned by Darden it is a concept restaurant which features a dimly lit 30 seat bar encircling a piano player and 70 wines by the glass. Coincidentally, based on three visits there last week, virtually every night ends up with 35 to 50 year olds stacked three to four deep after 9:00PM. I suspect this is ground zero for Orlando's singles scene. Interestingly at least half of them will be eating. At 7:00PM I found that almost everyone at the bar was eating.
The dining room and the area adjacent to the bar as well as an outside patio collectively hold about 250. On Tuesday and Wednesday waits averaged one hour for those who didn't have reservations while on Saturday they backed up to two hours.
With soft lighting, a lake outside, floor to ceiling plate glass windows and an overall upscale supper club ambience this is a restaurant for a serious evening on the town.
A remarkable statement considering that Darden claims that not a single dish is more than 475 calories!
Much of what is on their menu is legitimately excellent. In fact, for me, so much so that I absolutely refuse to believe that some of it falls within this caloric range. Double garlic chicken flatbread is superb. Four inches wide, fifteen inches long served on a wooden slab with a slight coating of cheese on top of the crisp housemde flatbread this rivalled some thin crust pizzas I've had in Italy. In fact a flatbread with tomaoes and cheese reminded me of Naples. A third seriously good flatbread was with steak and porcini mushrooms. A spicy shrimp and broccoli flatbread was disappointing, however.
Arguably the best entree is salmon, also on a wooden platter, with grilled asparagus and new potatoes. Diver scallops were flavorful and very good; a six ounce filet was properly cooked medium rare with a fairly intense merlot dipping sauce accompanying it.
Desserts are all presented in "fat" test tubes. Among the best was bananas foster with a top layer of rum and icing that one dug down into. I noticed many people ordering trays of these, with several at a table sampling a spoon of each.
I believe that of over 2,000 restaurants owned by Darden (yes, Darden owns this! as well as Olive Garden, Red Lobster and On The Border) this is the single highest grossing unit of any in the company. Open a bit more than a year there are three more, all in Florida, under construction.
Seasons 52's chef is the founding chef from Disney's California Grill and it shows in many of his creations.
In past years I've explored Orlando from Norman's to Maison et Jardin to Del Frisco's to Moonfish. Seasons 52 is remarkable. Regardless of the calories some of the dishes are simply delicious. The ambience is wonderful. For me, with three dinners in four nights, it is no wonder that many have called this the "hottest" restaurant concept in America today.