Friday, May 27, 2011

Time to grow up and eat in a grown-up franchise

Posted By on Fri, May 27, 2011 at 9:30 AM

Slimming desserts at Seasons 52
Today's my usual Fat Friday when I dine with friends for lunch and dinner. Actually, I have a reprieve from dinner this week, since two of our usuals are on a boat somewhere in the Aegean.

Lunch will be in Buckhead, as usual. Last week, we went to Seasons 52. This was my third visit since the restaurant opened. The gimmick here is well prepared, seasonal food with measured portions and calorie control. I had a chicken-Caesar salad, which was pretty mediocre compared to other fare I've eaten here. I probably should have anticipated that the classic Caesar dressing would be much lightened.

Seasons 52 is part of the same chain — Darden Restaurants — that owns Longhorn Steakhouse, Olive Garden and Red Lobster, among others. I think it fulfills the same attempted purpose as the subject of my "Grazing" column this week, the six-month-old Truffles across from Lenox Square. It is operated by the Ruby Tuesday people under licensure from a trio of independent restaurants with the same name in Hilton Head, SC.

Truffles and Seasons 52 both attempt to be "grown up" or more sophisticated versions of the Olive Gardens and Longhorns, where a generation has grown up dining. The food is for the most part better prepared and more aesthetically presented than at these others. The overwhelmingly kitschy decors are missing too.

I think Seasons 52 does accomplish this to the degree that most would never associate it with other Darden restaurants. Truffles is certainly a notch up from Ruby Tuesday and the Darden restaurants too. While its food is well prepared, though, I think it will need to boost the novelty of its recipes a bit before it can serve the dual functions of providing nostalgia and a sense of grown-up dining. Mac and cheese drizzled with truffle oil isn't going to do it.

But ain't it weird to realize these full-service chain restaurants have become the culinary home base of a generation?

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