I am occasionally the lucky recipient of an invitation to dine at a local eatery and sample their menu. Often it’s a new restaurant or if not new, then one with a seasonal menu they would like to share with me and hopefully have me share with my readers (I’ll ask forgiveness in advance for the phone photos; great atmosphere does not often equate to great photos!). My most recent experience was different in that it was both. Seasons 52 is part of a national restaurant group but they have recently entered the Denver market with a restaurant in the beautiful Park Meadows Retail Resort (that’s what they call it!). Located outside the mall, it is a freestanding establishment that took over the space that housed the once popular Champps Americana Restaurant. I’ll be honest, knowing it was a chain I had expectations that might have been less than if it was a unique establishment by a local restaurateur. That was an unfair presumption. Fresh, seasonal ingredients are combined with staff that really care about what they are offering patrons. I know; I might expect too that being invited as a guest might have me see their best side; so I came back with friends for Happy Hour to see if I felt the same after ‘just’ being a patron and nothing changed my opinion. It was love at first bite. Especially after moving 30 minutes further South of Denver last year, I am beyond excited to know of a restaurant I truly love that is close and won’t require a 2 hour round trip downtown in order to enjoy a special meal.
My visit on this day was actually my second one and featured their winter menu. While their menu carries a nice variety of seasonal dishes to choose from, the restaurant had created a menu for my party with their suggestions and we decided to honor that effort; after all, they should know best right?
My dining companion and I shared some fabulous appetizers and while my heart always leads me to something with shellfish and we did enjoy the mushrooms stuffed with lump crab meat, it was the Braised Short Rib and Cheddar Flatbread that was outstanding. Accompanied with a pickled beet and red onion confetti and finished with horseradish sour cream, it was one of those appetizers that made me feel sad when it was gone.
If there is one thing I am forever grateful to chefs for in the past couple of years, it is their use of foods that I was first introduced to as a child that I didn’t care for. Sorry mom, but every one of them was overcooked to the point that the flavor and freshness we enjoy today was never evident in the mush we consumed. Among those treasures are asparagus, fresh peas, broccoli and Brussels sprouts. And beets. My experience with sliced, canned beets made me steer clear of them for far too long. The salad we were served on this day was a fantastic example of the versatility of this gorgeous root vegetable. Featuring warm California golden beets that were served with Laura Chenel’s goat cheese and toasted pistachios and topped with a sprinkling of micro greens. I think this salad may have been my favorite dish of the day; the combination of the warm, sweet beets contrasted perfectly with the crunch of the pistachios and the tang of the goat cheese.
The entrees suggested for our meal included a Wood-Grilled Pork Tenderloin, New Zealand Venison Chop or a Lemon & Herb Roasted Whole Branzino. My tablemate chose the Venison and I stepped way left of center and ordered the fish. I am typically more of a chicken or salad type for lunch so the fish seemed lighter but a more unique choice for me and I am delighted I tried it. Roasted in parchment with Meyer lemon and thyme, it was served with broccolini and roasted potatoes and it was perfectly cooked. Moist, flaky and the perfect dish for me; not too heavy but oh so flavorful. I obviously need to think fish more often!
Sandy’s Venison was cooked perfect medium rare and in her words, ‘Simply the best venison she had ever had.’ When I queried the source of the meat, I was a bit surprised that it wasn’t sourced in Colorado but it made sense that their products are all from the same vendors; no matter the state and more importantly? New Zealand Venison is not as gamey as Colorado meat and a sample from her plate made that clear; most of what I have had from Colorado can be a challenge for me; this venison I loved. Both dishes contained sides and let’s just say that addressed one of my major contentions when eating out. Dinner is not just a piece of meat in the center of a plate; they should all be served with sides that compliment the dish!
Did we have dessert after this bounty? Of course we did! I simply love the dessert tray at Seasons 52. Presented with fresh items you can choose from the samples shown; there are a dozen Seasons 52 Signature Mini Indulgences all prepared in the same small glasses. I have a thing for the Key Lime Pie but Sandy chose this Pecan Pie treat and I can’t deny, it was decadent. Choosing is the hardest part, one day I think I’m going with a couple of friends for coffee and sample of one of each. Who’s in?
The chef came to our table to meet us; as it was late afternoon he invited us back to the kitchen for a quick tour. I have never worked in a professional kitchen and it reminded me of an orchestra. Everyone with their part making sure that it melded perfectly with the other parts. They were in the process of preparing for a large party; maybe there is some ballet thrown in there for good measure too!
I left with my typical request, asking if I could get a recipe for something to feature in a blog post that I would share. They were happy to comply and I left with every intention of sharing with you how to prepare this beautiful Cranberry and Sage Cocktail that we enjoyed. Sandy even helped get the cocktail made; the photos were taken and as I prepared to write the post I had one of those lightbulb moments. Cranberries? Could readers even find them if they were interested in this cocktail? I called a couple of local grocers and the answer was pretty much, ‘No…their time is up.’ Now what hmm?
Well, luckily I went back shortly after to meet a friend for Happy Hour and came away with more wonderful dishes and a new cocktail I’m planning to share on Friday. Their Happy Hour features a variety of small plates and my friend and I ordered several as this was our dinner. I love eating dinner this way; we had a lovely assortment of scallops, shrimp and lamb chops with a sensational goat cheese torta served with simple crostini. I’ve made a similar layered torta in the past using mascarpone cheese but the goat cheese was sublime and I knew I would have to try my hand at it at home. Happy Hour was a busy, crazy experience and I did not bother anyone with a request for a recipe but I thought it would be easy enough to recreate using my mascarpone version as a beginning. My friend and I had both detected a touch of sweetness and we assumed honey and that’s the direction I took. Layers of a goat cheese and cream cheese mixture are combined with a layer each of basil pesto and sun dried tomatoes. All of these elements have a salty component and I was unsure as to where I should actually incorporate the sweetness we detected but I ended up choosing to add a bit of honey to the pesto and it was divine. I didn’t want SWEET; I wanted a tease and it worked.
So done and done right? Until I found out later that their torta actually has a layer of fig preserves; no tomatoes. Well in my defense, I was there to meet friends and have fun and yes, have a cocktail sooo…uh oh?? What that means is this. I obviously have another torta to do right? Their pesto is unique too and I’m actually happy I didn’t make it now. I grow my own herbs in the summer; now I’ll wait until my mint starts to appear before sharing Stage Two. But don’t wait. Stage One was devoured. I made three small dishes for serving instead of one large one. I asked some friends to taste it. They finished off 2 of the dishes and I had to beg them to leave me one for photos. I guess that says more than I ever could doesn’t it? 🙂
Sonoma Goat Cheese Torta
For the Crostini
- 1 baquette, sliced on the diagonal
- Olive oil
- Kosher salt
For the torta
- 5 ounces goat cheese, room temperature
- 4 ounces mascarpone cheese, room temperature
- 1 clove garlic, finely minced
- Pinch of salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked ground pepper
- 1/2 cup fresh basil pesto
- 1 Tbsp honey
- 1/2 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil; drain off oil.
To Make the Crostini:
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- Place the slices of bread on a baking tray and brush on one side with olive oil; sprinkle lightly with salt.
- Bake for 8-10 minutes or until slices are golden. Remove from oven, allow to cool and then put into a serving dish.
For the Torta:
- Beat the cheeses in a mixing bowl. Beat in garlic, salt and pepper. Divide into 3 equal portions.
- Line a bowl with a 2-3 cup capacity with plastic wrap. Place 1 portion of the cheese mixture into the lined bowl. Top with the pesto followed by another layer of cheese mixture. Top that with sun-dried tomatoes and finish with another layer of the cheese mixture.
- Cover bowls tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 3 to 4 hours. Can be refrigerated up to three to five days. Before serving, remove plastic wrap cover and unmold on a decorative plate. Garnish with fresh basil leaves if desired. Serve with crostini (or crackers).