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Change of Seasons

[nggallery id=47 images=1]New restaurant proves “good” and “good for you” can be one and the same.

If there’s any prevailing criticism of Jacksonville’s dining scene, it’s the stark bifurcation between franchise restaurants and independent kitchens. Within the St. Johns Town Center, recently opened Seasons 52 has the potential to bridge that gap. Its tie to parent company Darden Restaurants is clear, but the emphasis on fresh, seasonal recipes lends the operation a hard-to-replicate sense of careful consideration often seen in chef-owned bistros.

The large mid-century inspired interior has space for over 300 guests, but careful arrangement and smart details—such as a fireplace in the waiting area and individual lights at each table—minimize the feel of the space. Refined simplicity is the theme of this restaurant concept, and that idea is executed with transparency from the open kitchen to the concise menu, which lists the ingredients of menu items so diners know exactly what will be delivered to the table.

To begin a recent dinner, my guests and I split a flatbread topped with artichoke, goat cheese, onions and peppers. The flatbread was light and satisfying; the crust was crispy, and the soft, rich cheese perfectly complemented the soft vegetables. We also shared a Spicy Chicken Chile Relleno as an appetizer; the sun-dried tomatoes, goat cheese and spinach balanced well with a spicy helping of pico de gallo.For the main course, we chose a mix of entrées. My caramelized sea scallops were grilled to just the right tenderness; the roasted asparagus and tomato-mushroom pearl pasta were tasty accompaniments, striking a balance between crisp and soft. The BBQ chicken salad with roasted butternut squash, organic greens, pumpkin seeds and goat cheese (noticing a trend here?) was fresh and filling, though the seeds were, unfortunately, left off. For vegetarians, the farmer’s market vegetable plate is a hearty option. A fork full of grilled ponzu tofu stands up to the smooth butternut squash, and the crunch and lingering nuttiness of toasted almond tabbouleh sets off the combination of flavors. Our final dining companion chose the Manchester Farms boneless grilled quail breast with mashed sweet potatoes and a bourbon-chili glaze. The quail was moist and flavorful, and the sweet glaze was outstanding. We all felt satisfied with our choices, but as true Southerners, we noticed the absence of butter.

Dessert at Seasons 52 is an exercise in enjoyable self-restraint. Mini indulgences come in a range of flavors, and the small-serving glasses contain just enough dessert to quell a demanding sweet tooth without creating a threat to holiday waistlines. We chose four flavors: Key lime, pecan pie with vanilla mousse, pumpkin pie with ginger snap crust and chocolate peanut butter mousse. The Key lime was less than impressive, but the pecan pie was a tasty and imaginative spin on a classic dessert.

Seasons 52
5096 Big Island Dr.,
St. Johns Town Center,
645-5252;
Seasons52.com