The Blue Collar Foodie Dines at Seasons 52 in Edison, NJ

I am not usually one to venture to chain restaurants. I am more of a mom and pop shop kind of foodie that enjoys the individuality and personality that usually goes hand-in-hand with these types of small town eateries. With that said, I am not one to discriminate. I feel that every establishment no matter how vast their empire has stretched has a story to tell, and I don’t think that their success on a national level should automatically condemn them to an existence chock full of foodie condemnation.   I am the type of person that is willing to go into any and all new situations with an open mind and open stomach, and this is exactly what I did when I was invited to the soft opening of Seasons 52 located near the Menlo Park Mall, at 217 Lafayette Avenue, Edison, NJ.

Seasons 52 Glass

Some people eat to survive; I eat for entertainment and therefore I have no issues traveling to stimulate my taste buds with something new and exciting that I cannot get in my neck of the woods. In college, I routinely would jump in my car and travel two hours to eat at Denny’s or Wawa, sure it helped that my girlfriend at the time, who is now my wife, lived down there in might as well be Alabama, New Jersey, but the food was always the mission and seeing her was a fantastic bonus. For some, driving to Edison from Bergen County after an arduous day of work seems daunting, but for me, it is what gets me through the day. I am always planning my next meal, and the thought of this next culinary adventure keeps me going.

This particular culinary adventure consisted of joining other food writers for a wine pairing extravaganza at the Seasons 52 Chef’s Table. Being that I am the Blue Collar Foodie and not the Burgundy Bourgeoisie Bon Vivant , I don’t have too much experience with being wined and dined at the Chef’s table, but I was pretty sure it was going to be a night to remember.

Before I discuss the food portion of the night and make all of you drool uncontrollably like a bunch of Pavlovian dogs at a performance of Carol of The Bells, I would like to discuss the atmosphere at Seasons 52. When we arrived at Seasons 52, it was a cold, icy, and blustery evening, so the complimentary valet parking was greatly appreciated. Furthermore, the heated walkway to the restaurant leading to that waiting area that was adorned with a regal gas fed fireplace created the perfect warming sensation that allowed us to forget about the unforgiving weather and begin to ruminate about our upcoming meal.

Being that this was a soft opening meal that was designed to show off not only the talents of the Chef, but the restaurant as a whole, we were met by a Seasons 52 representative and given a tour of the establishment. I have to say that I was quite impressed by what Seasons 52 had going on. We were shown several private dining areas that could be used for catered events such as baby showers or birthday parties, but also lend themselves to professional lunch or dinner spaces complete with presentation paraphernalia.

Furthermore, as we walked around the restaurant and entered the bar, I noticed an actual sentient keyboardist located behind the bar that was eloquently playing the music that was being piped into the entire restaurant. Before even entering the area that would serve us our Seasons 52 approved home base for the evening, I began to realize that Seasons 52 is not your average chain restaurant, and I had a sneaking suspicion I would not be eating Pizza Shooters, Shrimp Poppers, Extreme Fajitas.

Spice Wall

Spice Wall

After are brief jaunt around the restaurant, we were escorted into the room that houses the Chef’s Table, which overlooks the kitchen area. The décor matched the entire restaurant and which was to be soothing, yet still modern and sophisticated. The piece de resistance of the room was the mural created entirely of spices that are used by the chefs at Seasons 52. Not only did this food art look amazing but the aromatics that wafted from it added to the lovely ambience of this secluded foodie play ground that was the setting for our evening.

Seasons 52 Flatbread

Grilled Garlic Pesto Chicken

After a brief introduction and some small talk, our first course arrived at the table.  Seasons 52’s first offering was a terrific twosome of flatbreads that were expertly cooked. The flatbreads that we were served were described as Grilled Garlic Pesto Chicken featuring fresh mozzarella cheese, balsamic onions, roasted red peppers, and arugula and a Blackened Steak and Blue Cheese featuring cremini mushrooms, spinach, and caramelized onions.

Both flatbreads had just the right amount of crunch to give them the proper structural integrity but not that prison shanking crunch that we have all experienced after eating a spoonful of the Captain that was not sufficiently drowned in milk. The flavor was surprisingly delicate, with precisely the amount of spice as to not overpower the dish but to add a harmonious balance in each bite. To add to this course, the wine that accompanied it was spot on. The sweetness of the grapes paired well with the hint of heat, while the wine itself was not overbearing as to wash away the welcomed tingle.

Fresh guacamole with a tantalizing white fish

Fresh guacamole with a tantalizing white fish

With our palates alive and bustling with the flavor of the Flatbreads that served as the first course of this lovely foodie event, we all moved onto our second course. This second offering was an Amuse Bouche that paired fresh guacamole with a tantalizing white fish. This portion of the meal was a wonderful palate cleanser, while still having enough flavor to be memorable in its own right.

Seasons 52 Bronzino

Lemon Herb Roasted Bronzino

Next up was a Lemon Herb Roasted Bronzino that shared a cedar plank and to be honest the spot light, with a Lemongrass Grilled Sea Scallop. Both of these wonderfully prepared sea dwelling morsels of tastiness were served to us with a side of yellow beets, asparagus, and carrots. In my opinion, and since I am writing this thing it is the only one that matters, #onlyslightlyjerky, this dish took best in show honors. The combination of the beautiful presentation, intoxicating aroma, and simply divine taste made this contribution to our meal the clear cut winner of this Seasons 52 food orgy.

Organic Baby Spinach & Caramelized Pears with toasted walnuts, and gorgonzola

Organic Baby Spinach & Caramelized Pears with toasted walnuts, and Gorgonzola

As our stomachs began to fill, we were delighted to see the next dish was a salad course. We are not talking your average pizza place salad, full of left over toppings they could not sell yesterday. I am talking about a gourmet salad that combined Organic Baby Spinach & Caramelized Pears with toasted walnuts, and gorgonzola sprinkled with a sherry walnut vinaigrette. I will give you a second to go re read that sentence so you can take in all the awesomeness that is contained within this salad. The fresh and earthy spinach paired flawlessly with the pungent gorgonzola cheese, while the walnuts and the pears added texture while dancing with the vinaigrette as if it was choreographed by the likes of Jerome Robbins.   (Just so you all know, until today I had no idea who Jerome Robbins was. That is why you got to love the internets, making uninformed people look smart since 1969!)

Sonoma Goat Cheese Ravioli

Sonoma Goat Cheese Ravioli

After we all devoured the salad course, we then were brought a strikingly prepared Sonoma Goat Cheese Ravioli topped with harvest vegetables, black mushrooms, and a roasted onion jus. The brightness of this dish could not be fully captured by my point and shoot camera, but I assure you it was damn near radiating off the plate, just beckoning to be eaten. I, of course, obliged and found myself in wandering the plains of flavor country with each bite.

Being that everyone at this table was some type of foodie in one way, shape, or form, none of us wanted to throw in the towel before completing this lavish meal. We have trained for this you see, we are not sprinters, we are marathon runners that have hit countless walls in the past, so we bore down and welcomed the next course with open mouths.

Kona-Crusted Lamb T-Bone Chop with an Oak-Grilled Maine Lobster Tail

Kona-Crusted Lamb T-Bone Chop with an Oak-Grilled Maine Lobster Tail

This dish united a grilled Kona-Crusted Lamb T-Bone Chop with an Oak-Grilled Maine Lobster Tail to form a foodie take on the age- old classic surf and turf. To enhance this already spectacular plate, the chef decided to team this juggernaut of a dish up with Brussels Sprouts and Yukon Gold Mashed Potatoes.   I am the type of person that saves the best bite for last, this was the type of meal that I had a hard time trying to figure out which bite to save. As I was eating, I felt the pressure of the decision weighing on me, much like when you say you are ready to order at a restaurant but you are not, and everyone is ordering, and your turn is coming but you can’t concentrate because everything that everyone else is ordering sounds so good. The waitress is coming ever so close to asking you that faithful question, “and you sir?,” yet you still have no idea. Want to know what I did, I cheated! I took a little piece of each scrumptious segment of this meal and made it all my last bite. To quote a very wise man I once knew, “if you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying!”

Seasons 52  Mini Indulgences

Seasons 52 Mini Indulgences

Just when we thought we could not eat another bite, our server Jason, who I will get back to, brought us a collection of Seasons 52’s award winning Mini Indulgences. You may not know this but dessert is my crack rock. I have a sweet tooth that would make most children cringe, so when this flight of awesome sauce hit the table I could barely contain myself. Each description of these sugary shot glasses of amazeballs made me yearn to eat every last one of them and leave none for the rest of my group. I was able to contain myself and calm the beast within just enough to only gobble down two of them and retain some of my dignity.   They were worth every single stinking calorie they contained times two! Yea, that is how good they were, trust me, I am an addict!

This Chef’s Table tasting is not only for food writers and bloggers; you too can experience this foodtastic event by contacting the Seasons 52 group dining liaison and booking this table. Now, sadly you will not have the pleasure of being captivated by the outstanding narration and delightful yarn spinning of the talented Jason from Georgia. Jason was our server during this gourmand gallivants, and he not only explained each dish but also described the wine for the pairings while adding amusing anecdotes along the way. You may be able to embark on one of these journeys with Jason, but you can take this trip with a server that was trained by him.

Cheers

Cheers

If you can’t get to Seasons 52 for the Chef’s tasting most of the items that I mentioned in this post can also be found on their regular dinner or lunch menu. I highly recommend taking a drive down to Edison, NJ and check out what all chain restaurants should be doing!

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The Blue Collar Foodie Embarks On A Culinary Tour Of Miami

If you read my work or know me at all you are well aware of my somewhat unhealthy obsession with all things food related. I wouldn’t say that I am a food addict but I am most definitely addicted to good food. I could see that Eli Manning like, confused yet oddly intrigued, look on your face as you read that last sentence and thought, wait, what the what, being a food addict and being addicted to good food are two different things. Let me explain. A food addict does not care what they shovel into their Honey Boo Boo sized mouth hole, because they love the sheer act of eating, I however love the act of eating good, no great, food.

Now that we have established that in the, “hierarchy of my love”, which by the way would have made a banging title for an 80’s love ballad, the order is as follows; my wife, my family (furry and not so furry), and my food. Fulfilling, this constant need for a foodie fare fix is about as hard as finding crack in Camden, in the Northeast, but when I am planning to go on vacation, a skinny, sad voice in the back of my head whispers scary thoughts like, “What if you eat at the wrong Taco stand.” Once this kernel of doubt is implanted in my skull, I immediately begin to panic. OMG! WTF! And several other silly ass acronyms that my older readers will have to google. What if I really do eat at the wrong Taco Stand? I will lose all sorts of Foodie Street Cred! I will no longer be able to call myself a Gastronaut or an Epicurean! As I take the brown paper bag out, that once held my Cronut, and breathe deeply into it to stop my hyperventilating, I remember that I am okay. I got a system, and that system works!

My system is foolproof guys and it not only helps you find the best food available in the area it also puts a big fat smile on the faces of food bloggers everywhere. Next time you decide to go on vacation, contact the Top 20 or so food bloggers on Urbanspoon.com for the region that you are headed. Write a very simple e-mail that includes a little bit about yourself and what type of food you are looking for, then sit back and wait. Unless you contacted the world’s worst food bloggers most of these food bards will be glad to help you in your time of need.

MCTThis system has never failed me so as Kat and I prepared to visit Miami for one night before boarding our cruise ship, I followed the BCF way. Spoiler Alert! I was not disappointed with the sage advice that was hurled at me from my fellow blogosphere citizens. Damn near every one of them that I contacted suggested a few restaurants to try, but most of them then added that if I truly wanted the Miami Food Experience of a lifetime, I should check out Miami Culinary Tours. I let my fingers do some walking and researched this foodie friendly tour before I devised my pitch to the wonderful little lady. After a few short minutes of checking out their website, my pitch was pretty much sending a link via G-Chat and writing the ever poignant comment, WE NEED TO DO THIS!!! Note the three exclamation points for added pitchiness.

For those of you who are too lazy to click the link above and read about this amazing foodie phenomenon, I will give you the basic idea. Miami Culinary Tours combines the educational experience of learning about the architecture, history, and culture of the beautiful South Beach area with the flare of the tremendous local foodie scene to create a close to three hour eating orgy that leaves you full from your belly to your brain.

After Kat perused the website for all of about two minutes and saw the scrumptious photos of some of the food that we may be able to try on this tour, it was just a matter of booking our tour. The tour itself costs $59.00 per person and at first sounds steep. But as you will soon discover this tour is well worth the price of admission.

After we booked our epicurean excursion we were informed of the clandestine meeting place where the tour would begin. Nothing for nothing but the fact that this rally point was kept secret until I purchased the tickets made me feel like I was some sort of foodie spy, and only added to the allure of this tour.

When we arrived in Miami we were so excited about the Miami Culinary Tour that we actually arrived at the rendezvous spot early. That is right, I said early, and not us early, but actual human being early, and if you know my wife and I you know that is about as commonplace as Charlie Sheen turning down nose candy.

We followed the directions in the e-mail that we received and found our tour guide, Richy Marchosky, who was extremely warm and inviting right off the bat. He checked us in swiftly, reminded us to grab a bottle of water for the tour and then gave us the very simple directions to the first stop on the tour, where we could comfortably wait for the tour to commence.

Miami Tour AnglersOur Miami Culinary expedition started outside the first venue of our tour with our guide Richy, introducing himself and having us introduce ourselves as well. Richy’s background in performing was immediately apparent; he was inviting, funny, and informative within the first sixty seconds of the tour.   This brief prologue seemed to melt away any anxiousness that was in the group and thanks to Richy’s charismatic and professional approach everyone in the group was instantly ready for a good time.

Our first stop was a charming boutique hotel from the 1930’s, The Angler’s that we were informed Earnest Hemingway frequented. Not sure what to expect on this tour, I slowly walked into the hotel half expecting a half assed blurb about the food that we were going to eat and then a napkin full of food. I was very happy to be all sorts of wrong. We were escorted into a private area where we were all offered comfy seats and then the show really started. Richy began to talk to us not only about the food that we were going to eat but about the history and architecture of Miami and this building. While we were all busy soaking up as much Miami knowledge as we could, our food arrived.

Miami CevicheOur first dish could not have been more beautiful, we were served a gorgeous plate of Sea Bass Ceviche served with Leche de tigre, or tiger’s milk. This Peruvian concoction contains lime juice, sliced onion, chiles, salt, pepper, and just a bit of fish juice. Leche De Tigre is believed to not only cure a hangover, which in Miami, the party capital of the world, is a necessity, it is also said to be an aphrodisiac. I am pretty sure the medicinal claims of this fare are not F.D.A. approved but as for the taste I assure you it is B.C.F. approved. The best part was as we ate each bite of yummy, Richy continued to serve us mini morsels of Miami factoids.

Once our plates were clean, we were out the door and on the street in no time and on our way to our next foodie approved establishment. On the way Richy continued to point our famous buildings, celebrity hot spots, and the wonderful architecture that has become symbolic of the Miami area. We soon arrived our destination and entered into Bolivar, a modern lounge like eatery that was described as Colombian-Peruvian-Venezuelan gastronomical fusion; try to say that 10 times fast.

Beer Miami Once again we were whisked inside where place settings were already prepared for us and a cocktail was waiting. The refreshing cocktail that was awaiting our arrival was none other than a traditional Colombian Refajo, or beer mixed with soda. After walking in the still humid and hot Miami November, this mélange hit the spot flawlessly. While Miami cultural facts were flung around the room, our group began to loosen up, partially thanks to Richy’s personality and somewhat thanks to beer that was being sipped as our next sampling arrived.

Miami EmpanadaThe smell of this dish was as intoxicating as the beverage that was being served. The Patacones, Fried Green Plantain Chips, were crispity, crunchity, and delicious. Sharing a plate with the banana’s sexier Latin cousin was an empanada that could literally put Pfizer out of business. The Columbian Chicken and Potato empanada was more stimulating than Sofía Vergara doing the Tango by itself, but when combined with the spicy savory sauce that it was served with there is not a blue pill in the world that is more potent.

Richy once again expertly gathered us all together, and ushered to the next establishment spouting tidbits of information all the way to our next stop. As we passed some of the most famous sights of the South Beach area I realized that I must truly be a foodie because instead of being excited that I just walked past a building that was filmed in Scar Face, I was anticipating our next nosh.

Meat Twinkie After enjoying the scenery of South Beach and walking off a few of the calories we just ingested we arrived at David’s Cafe, a South Beach institution which has been serving delicious authentic Cuban Food for over 35 years. David’s Café offered a walk up take out window for those in a rush, or a quite familiar diner like sit down area if you prefer to stay a while.  David’s Café presented us a fried stuffed Yucca dish that I can only describe as a Meat Twinkie, which of course I do with the utmost compliments to David’s Café, considering that I love meat, TWSS, and my love for Twinkies makes Tallahassee’s obsession look like a summer fling. If these gorgeous deep fried log of tastiness was not enough, David Café’ and Miami Culinary Tours had one more thing in store for us, Columbian Freaking Coffee. The combination of walking and eating had depleted most of our batteries by this point, but as if Richy was Jesus and this nectar of the gods was communion, we partook and we were revitalized.

Miami CoffeeChock full of nuts, TWSS, and buzzing down the street all hopped up on Meat Twinkies and caffeine we were on our way to yet another stop, Charlotte’s Bakery.   When we arrived, I can’t lie I was somewhat sad that we were going to eat another empanada, considering we had just eaten one at Bolivar. I soon learned that A., there can never be too many Empanadas, and B., no two empanadas are the same. Thanks to Miami Culinary Tours, I was about to eat my very first Argentinian Empanada and by the aroma that was wafting throughout this fine establishment I had a feeling I was going to like it. At first glance you can easily see that this was not your grandmother’s empanada, well at least not the grandmother of the owner of Empanada Mania, who usually cooks my empanadas, you get my point, it was different people, work with me. The dough appeared to be a pastry type dough and the green sauce that was served with it was unlike any empanada dipping sauce I had ever seen. As I took my first bite, I could almost hear the Argentine National Anthem playing in my brain, as every taste bud in my mouth stood at attention saluting their flag with honor and integrity. Okay so I had google the Anthem, but you catch my drift, this fried doughy masterpiece was remarkable!

Argentinian Empanda At this point you could see some of the newbie gastronomers hitting the wall, so Richy explained to them that they could get a doggie bag if need be because the next few stops were just as important as the first few. After a short walk we found ourselves in front of a Pizzeria and Deli named Blocks. What is so special about a Pizzeria you ask, well that is a great question. The answer is simple, Blocks is Home to The Mother Dough. The process for the Mother Dough was started 300 years ago, and is continued to this day in this small Pizza Shop in Miami. The yeast for the dough is kept alive by adding water and flour on a daily basis, never missing a single day. This process was lost during the industrial era because this process took too much time and effort, but Blocks is attempting to bring it back one square block of pizza at a time.

PIzza Blocks We were given the opportunity to try the Sun Dried Hippie, which consisted of Sun Dried Tomatoes, Feta, baby spinach, basil pesto, and kalamato olives all in a pocket of Mother Dough. I can see why 300 years ago people were kind of into this dough, it was scrumptious. Not to mention the fresh ingredients that were combined within it, married perfectly to create a wonderful and not to be forgotten sandwich.

RugalaEven though I am a glutton, I have to admit I was slowly reaching my limit, but Richy assured us that the last two stops on this culinary carousel were desserts, and as everyone knows there is always room for dessert. As we approached our destination my internal New Yorker, that all Tri-Staters have, smiled from within and I could hear him whisper, which is louder than most other states inner voices scream, “forgetaboutit.” We arrived at Jerry’s Famous Deli, which appeared to be a traditional Jewish Deli with a little Miami Flare and as Richy spoke about this Miami staple, he passed out Raspberry Rugala. This Rugala would have made my Grandmother sob longer and harder than she did when my Grandfather finally got home from Korea. In fact, if you know her don’t mention that I boasted about having amazing Rugala, because I will be guilted into going back to Miami just to get her some. Wait, on second thought tell her immediately, not even my wife can stand up to the power of Jewish Guilt, and that means I can take this tour again.

GelatoLast but not least we made our way to Milani Gelateria where we were offered a sample of Gelato which honestly tasted like it was flown to Miami in the Pope’s personal Pope Jet. The texture was smooth yet creamy and the flavor selection was better than most Gelato places I found in Italy. This was the perfect ending to this amazing tour considering that after all the food we just consumed and all the blocks we walked in the Miami heat, nothing could have tasted better than a little Gelato.

A quote from the founder of this food centric tour Grace Della can be found on the website and I feel that it embodies the passion and objective of the Miami Culinary Tour quite well, “We offer a different perspective on Miami because we are food people, we like to experience other cultures and learn about new places through food, we find comfort in such.”  This philosophy is exactly what drew me to this tour and ultimately is why I would recommend this tour to any foodie that finds themselves in Miami.

The restaurants, eateries, and cafés that Kat and I visited on this tour were absolutely amazing and we would have never found them without Richy and Miami Culinary Tours. If you are serious about food and want to find out what Miami has to offer, this tour is a must to find out how full of awesome sauce that Miami Culinary scene truly is.