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Seasons 52: Season's eatings

Low-calorie love

It was 2:30 in the morning. I was madly rummaging around the kitchen after sleeping a couple of hours. One by one, three cats walked into the kitchen and stared at me. "I'm hungry, dammit," I said. They looked at me reproachfully. I poured dry food into their bowls. "What about me?"

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Finally, I toted a Caramel Nut Blast protein bar, a Fuji apple and a handful of shortbread Girl Scout cookies to my study. "This is the cost of a healthy meal," I told Mr. Mew.

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Wayne and I had eaten that night at Seasons 52 (3050 Peachtree Road, 404-846-1552) in Buckhead. This is part of a Florida-based chain that opened a restaurant last year in Perimeter Mall. The gimmick is seasonally changing spa cuisine; nothing on the menu exceeds 475 calories. I left the restaurant feeling self-congratulatory. I woke up starving in the middle of the night.

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Seasons 52 is a project of Darden Restaurants, which also owns the woeful Red Lobster and the baleful Olive Garden. I wasn't expecting much, but I was surprised on all counts, including the fact that there was a 45-minute wait for a table on a Monday night – very rare in our city. Not wanting to wait so long, we decided to eat at the bar, a decision we partly came to regret because of a live singer who endlessly droned the entire opus of Elton John.

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Apart from the aural ambiance, the restaurant feels quite comfortable. It's clubby-looking with lots of dark wood, cozy booths, a completely open kitchen and lots of cool touches such as zebra-upholstered bar stools. Service by a staff of black-clad young waiters was better than average.

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The food, to my further surprise, was tasty. Instead of the usual bread and butter, you can only order lavosh-thin flatbread with various toppings. We chose grilled shrimp with chipotle sauce and pineapple, feta and poblano peppers. The flatbread, cut into triangles, was crunchy, tangy, fruity and spicy. And quickly vanishing.

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We also ordered a chili relleno – a large poblano roasted with a filling of chicken, spinach and goat cheese, surrounded by pico de gallo made with tomatoes that had real, live flavor.

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Entrees are similarly complex without being fussy. Wayne ordered chunks of yellowfin tuna grilled rare and served over wilted arugula with roasted tomatoes, brined anchovies, green beans, slices of hard-boiled eggs and tapenade. It's the only take on a Niçoise salad utilizing fresh tuna that I've ever liked.

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My own entree couldn't have been better. It was five glossy-grilled scallops atop crunchy asparagus spears and a mound of pearl pasta. Yeah, I could have eaten twice the quantity, but that's why God made Girl Scout cookies.

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Actually, we also had dessert at Seasons 52. This is perhaps the strangest course of the menu. The server brought what looked like a rack of tiny bud vases to the table. Each was filled with a different concoction and we were asked to make our choice. I, being eternally hopeful, assumed this was a cutesy marketing tool and we would be getting conventional servings. Not. We were handed the bud vases to forage with a spoon – pecan pie with vanilla-bean mousse for me and a chocolate-peanut-butter thing for Wayne. Both were delicious. And light. They'd make excellent palate cleansers.

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I'm not kidding about waking up hungry and pigging out later that night. It's kind of scary, after eating a very good meal of barely more than 1,000 calories, to think what the average restaurant meal must contain. I didn't even mention that the restaurant is inexpensive. So, hey, you could order two appetizers and two entrees just for yourself.

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Vickery's in East Atlanta

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"Let's face it, you folks around here are just plain hip," says the menu of the new Vickery's (933 Garrett St., 404-627-8818), explaining why it has opened in Glenwood Park, an unusually attractive development of living and shopping spaces between Grant Park and East Atlanta.

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"You're very hip," I told Wayne. "You're too cool for school."

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Whatever, we're happy to have this clone of the popular Crescent Avenue restaurant in our own neighborhood and glad they are opening yet another one, to be called the Depot, on Memorial Drive.

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The new space is diner-like, with an exterior window giving a view of the kitchen. Inside, you find red-and-white upholstery and practically no decoration unless you count a wall that looks like an assemblage of stacked wood. The dining room is separated from a festive bar by a fairly long hall. In other words: The bar's smoke doesn't waft over your food.

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The food, I'm sorry to say, is going to need some significant improvement in nearly every respect if hip people are going to chow down regularly here. While stacked fried green tomatoes, surrounded by marinara, were crispy-sour good, I'd rather see them layered with a cheese besides not-cool-for-school Boursin. The day's soup – roasted garlic, steak and potatoes – wasn't bad, but an odd concoction for a balmy spring evening.

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My entree of grits with crawfish tails, shrimp, lump crabmeat, andouille sausage and fried oysters, anointed with "herbed bourbon butter," was a case of everything, including the kitchen sink. The main problem was vastly overcooked shrimp, but the portion and ingredients generally could be cut in half. It begs for a contrasting sauce, too. The best part by far was the fried oysters.

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Wayne's entree, the special, was an interesting concept that just didn't work well. It included a crab cake, a black-bean cake and a roasted-red-pepper polenta cake with a tomato salad. The whole plate was drizzled with salad dressing. The three cakes lacked any crispness, so the texture was monotonous.

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Just improving the appearance of the entrees would help a lot. I know Vickery's is capable of much better.

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Besha rocks

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Creative Loafing's food editor, Besha Rodell, is a nominee for a prestigious James Beard Foundation Journalism Award this year. Besha is nominated for our 2006 Food Issue, "From the farm to your table." The specific category is "Newspaper Feature Writing About Restaurants and/or Chefs With or Without Recipes."

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I hear she's receiving an enormous raise to keep her from running away like our previous food editor, Bill Addison, who was also a Beard nominee.

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Editor's note: Ha!



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