The wait is over for the newest addition to the Route 1 dining scene. Seasons 52 has opened in MarketFair to the delight of many who have wanted something more upscale along the shopping corridor. Located at the end of the mall that had been the Barnes and Noble space, the Princeton location is warmly inviting and packed.
Arriving with a friend for a first visit on a Monday night at 5:30 p.m., a time when we thought we would have the place to ourselves, I was asked if I had a reservation. They were able to accommodate us but urged us to make reservations the next time. Sure enough, within moments of our arrival the main dining room filled fast. At our second visit, also at the early hour of 5:30 p.m., we had a reservation and it was a good thing we did. On that occasion, even the bar was crowded with diners. This crush may have been in part due to the holidays but the food warrants return visits so we shall see.
The decor is clubby with a great deal of wood, upholstered banquettes and an open kitchen. The bar is a rainbow of colors from the huge variety of liquor bottle lit from behind, making it one of the most appealing bars in town. The classic drawback is the surplus of ubiquitous televisions that kill conversation. But if enjoying the company of friends is your aim, the main room is mercifully free of the distraction (but even the noise of conversations can be intense if the entire room is full). In addition there are private dining rooms, including a chef’s room, for truly intimate gatherings.
The menu is on the smaller size as befits a chain whose focus in on seasonal ingredients. (Seasons 52 is part of the Darden family of restaurants that also includes Olive Garden, the Capital Grille, Longhorn Steak House, and Bahama Breeze, a venue that promises “a Caribbean escape” and that is expected to open soon at MarketFair.)
Seasons 52 offers many choices of appetizer/small plates to share as well as full entree courses. On our two visits, we chose the flatbreads to start. The Braised Short Rib and Cheddar ($10.95), the Grilled Garlic Pesto Chicken ($9.50) and the Artichoke and Laura Chenel Goat Cheese ($9.95) were perfect to share and any of the flatbreads would be a nice-sized meal with a salad for one person. We also tried the cider Glazed Grilled Chicken Skewers ($8.95), again good for sharing and worth another order. Other appetizers include hummus, goat cheese ravioli, edamame ($5.25), and crab/shrimp stuffed mushrooms ($9.95).
Salads range from a small field greens ($5.95) to spinach with caramelized pear ($8.50). Entree salads include, at this season, a winter vegetarian tasting with quinoa and cedar roasted tofu ($15.50). Maui tuna, salmon, and BBQ chicken ($12.95) are among the offerings.
Larger plates range from sea scallops ($22.95) and boneless rainbow trout ($17.95) to rack of lamb ($27.50) and oak-grilled filet mignon (also $27.50). Chef suggestions include venison chop and ragout ($26.95) and a sommelier selection of wine appears with a list of seasonal cocktails and craft beers. The choice of beverage is helped by the offering of a flight of wines so individual tastes can be explored.
Desserts are presented in small glasses, perfect for a light ending to the meal (and priced at an economical $2.95). Key lime pie is snappy and sweet. Again the seasonal focus is on display.
Seasons 52 is also acutely aware of alternative tastes and offers a variety of specialty menus such as gluten free, lactose and sodium sensitive and vegan. No one need go away hungry apparently. And best of all to this calorie counter, the menu proudly proclaims that no menu item is over 475 calories.
The restaurant is positioned slightly away from the mall itself so that it presents the appearance of a separate venue. This distinguishes it from any notion of food court dining. It is a good date-night destination or location for a business luncheon. The private rooms are attractive for celebrations and are equipped for business meetings. Solo diners would find welcome at the bar. It is upscale in both ambiance and cuisine, making it an adult venue. Marketfair offers several other options for families with small children.
Seasons 52 offers dining for the sake of dining rather than “grabbing a bite to eat.” The new location provides attentive service and a creative menu. It is a welcome destination accessible from both Princeton and the highway that is a step above the ordinary.
Seasons 52, 3535 Route 1, Princeton. 609-799-2152. Open for lunch daily from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dinner 4 to 10 p.m.. Friday and Saturday until 11 p.m.