The Yelp Elite – kinda sounds like some sort of secret society, doesn’t it? Though browsing crowd-sourced restaurant reviews has become ubiquitous especially among those with smartphones, a lesser known aspect of Yelp is the Elite Squad – a collection of members who post high quantities of quality reviews, photos, check-in tips, and other contributions to the Yelp Community. One of the perks of being Elite? The opportunity to experience new restaurants (and older ones looking for a fresh perspective) with 100 of your newest friends. Cass and I went to such an event this past Monday at Seasons 52, a new New American restaurant just across the street from the beach here in Santa Monica.
We parked at the structure adjoining the Santa Monica Place mall and walked over to Broadway and Ocean Avenue. Literally seconds from the sandy beach and surrounded by palm tree lined sidewalks, Seasons 52 fits in perfectly with its seasonally changing, health-conscious menu. As our friendly bartender Nathan pointed out, every item on their menu is under 475 calories and nothing is prepared with butter or deep-fried in oil. How could food taste good without butter?? we asked ourselves. But we were in for a treat…
We had arrived early, so we spent some time hanging out by the bar and admiring the stunning decor. Warm, inviting wood trimming, crystal clear glasses all emblazoned with 52, bottles upon bottles of domestic and imported wine… we could tell that this would be a great place to return to for happy hour.
After checking in, we were invited into a large private dining room set up in the back of the restaurant. The long tables seating ten at a time hinted at the evening’s family-style meal. Seasons 52 even printed cute little menus that read “Welcome YELP! Elites!” across the top. Brownie points!
Three varieties of wine were endlessly flowing throughout the evening – a sustainable Sauvignon Blanc from Honig in Napa, a Monastrell from Wrongo Dongo in Spain’s Jumilla region, and a Garnacha from Alto Moncayo in Spain’s Campo de Borja, known as The Empire of Garnacha for the prevalence of the namesake grape. We sampled the white first – crisp and ice cold, it turned out to be our favorite of the night.
Every table was decorated with Yelp SWAG from shot glasses to bottle openers to paper fans. While mingling with fellow Yelpers and waiting for the food to arrive, we kept busy by trying to figure out how to add our new-found friends through the Yelp App.
Our table was presented with the lamb chops first, and what a great start it was! This also turned out to be the best dish of the night, hands-down. The rub was sweet and smoky and reminiscent of really good kalbi, the meat was tender and juicy, and the Frenched bones allowed us to enjoy this as a “finger food” of sorts. I could have polished off a whole plate of these!
Next up was the shrimp cocktail, served with parsley, lemon, and cocktail sauce. It was good but nothing particularly special. The shrimp were all parboiled until barely opaque, and the serving portion was generous for our table to share.
What’s the green stuff? I heard murmuring throughout the room. A quick glance at the menu revealed the identity of the mint and edamame hummus, a delicious modern spin on traditional chickpea hummus. Its partner in crime was a flavorful roasted red pepper hummus. The lavash strips were crispy and made for excellent carriers of the house-made hummus.
We then ventured south of the border with these hot and crispy chicken quesadillas with grilled chicken, pico de gallo, and melted cheese. I liked how some of the bits of cheese went astray and turned extra crispy on the griddle. A twist of lime and I was a happy camper!
I really enjoyed these cute little bite-sized treats, and I would love to borrow the recipe for a party sometime! (Hint, hint.) The portobello mushrooms were juicy and hearty, and the spinach added such a substantial filling that you don’t even miss the cheese or meat or seafood that other, more fatty stuffed mushrooms usually wallow in. The crunchy topping of parmesan and panko really brought the whole bite together.
No healthy Californian / New American type of place would be complete without a fresh sushi roll, but unfortunately this roll was not a great representation. The soy paper wrapping was interesting but the rice was hard and not formed properly (too squished?). The tuna and avocado did taste pretty fresh, so that was a saving grace.
Our table nearly missed out on the flatbreads (there was some miscommunication regarding which tables were served what and in what order), but luckily Community Manager Brittany B saved the day and we were able to try them both. The fig and goat cheese flatbread was pretty good. The menu described it as topped with applewood smoked bacon, sweet cipollini, arugula, 15-year balsamic, and fresh mint. I liked the sweet balsamic glaze that was drizzled over the top; it really tied together the hodge-podge of toppings.
And finally, the tomato flatbread, reminiscent of a margherita pizza. The flatbread itself was a bit dry and cracker-like, but I really enjoyed the fresh tomato and the generous sprinkling of chiffonade of basil. This tasted great paired with the Garnacha.
All in all, we really had a great evening. Many thanks to Brittany B for pulling together such an awesome tasting event, and cheers to Erica and the team at Seasons 52 for their hospitality, friendliness, and delicious food and wine! I was impressed with the staff’s ability to juggle so many tables of hungry Yelpers with such grace and efficiency. This was my sixth Elite event and though each one was different, there are not many restaurants daring enough to host a sit-down, family-style meal for this many people, all of whom are avid review writers. I think they did a great job, especially with the way they smoothly handled the minor hiccup our table encountered.
We can’t wait to come back to Seasons 52 to sample more of their 475 calories or less menu…. and so I can indulge in an entire order of kona crusted lamb all to myself. ;)
Check out Seasons 52: seasons52.com
1501 Ocean Ave
Santa Monica, CA 90401
See their Yelp reviews here!
Not near Santa Monica? Fear not – Seasons 52 has 39 locations nationwide – check out their website to find the one nearest you!