A Plate Too Far?

Seasons Café’s ambitious menu is an admirable stretch beyond its reach

Back at military school there was a guy who would perpetually challenge us to chess games. So confident was he in his abilities he would insist on wearing a blindfold, while allowing us to play without impediment. He was an exceptionally strong player, but certainly wasn’t good enough to beat anyone in his chosen style. A dozen or so moves in, the game would begin to be peppered with “Sorry, where’s my bishop again?” and similar queries. Had he but removed the cloth, he could have wiped the floor with all of us, but he was a man who preferred to fail as a genius rather than succeed as a primus inter pares.

Such hubris is apparent at Seasons Café (12740 Kingston Pike, Farragut). The idea is a great one: a small, friendly bistro offering high-quality food with an emphasis on seasonal produce. And the concept surely seems even more enticing at this time of year, with a staggering state surplus of mists and mellow fruitfulness. But Seasons Café refuses to settle for straightforward warmth and comfort, preferring instead to aim for quirky, individual sophistication. The menu provides a few pleasing high points, but overall its vaulting ambition, I’m sorry to say, o’erleaps itself.

As its name suggests, the venue places a strong emphasis on contrasts. But there’s a fine line between contrast and clash, and the jarring absence of single-mindedness is evident from the moment one enters. Where is the host? Err… behind us, squeezed awkwardly up against a window to avoid blocking a corridor. Full marks for opening up the kitchen, but why does it face the bar rather than the restaurant, from where it remains stubbornly out of sight? And whose bright idea was it to fashion the restroom doors from glass? The restaurant is lit beautifully, lending the place a romantic, dusky glow at night. Yet, at odds with this mood, the furnishings are austere and faintly uncomfortable.

The slightly uneasy emphasis on gimmick continues with the menu. Table water comes with a slice of cucumber rather than lemon. Soups sit in asymmetrical bowls. Much of the food continues this theme of traditional with a twist, but some of these traditions are arguably not worth the twisting. Surely we don’t need another crab cake variant.

The best thing on the menu is a pumpkin bisque, sweet and creamy with deliciously nutty roasted seeds and parmesan breadsticks. A rather sudden tomato soup is less pleasing, and a New England clam chowder altogether too dour.

The shrimp and pesto flatbread proves a regrettable choice. An exaggerated foil to the pretension of many of the other dishes, it is perhaps the most boring-looking meal I’ve ever seen. The perfectly square dough sits on its perfectly square plate with nothing to enliven eye or palate. Equally unappealing was the venison sausage sandwich, the venison inedibly salty and the bread soggy and dank.

The meatloaf is hard work, and is inexplicably topped with a film of mozzarella, which howls angrily against the tart blue-cheese mash on which the loaf sits. A pear and balsamic chicken was enjoyable enough until the discovery of a literally painful faux pas—pieces of cinnamon bark from the marinade had embedded themselves into the meat, poised to crack the enamel of any inattentive tooth.

Head chef Deron Little is clearly passionate about food, and is blessed with an inquiring mind and a lively imagination. He also happens to be an immensely likeable individual. But he’s trying too hard. His ceaseless invention—a commendable quality—needs to be tempered, since it plays against the central concept of the restaurant. I suspect in the gastronomic desert that is Farragut he’s playing to an appreciative gallery, but would wager things might be different on Gay Street.

Even allowing for the fact we live in a country where “intellectual” has a negative connotation, Seasons Café is too clever by half.

© 2008 MetroPulse. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Comments » 5

meverett writes:

Actually, a restaurant review isn't just about the food. It's about the whole experience of dining out, which includes atmosphere, presentation, and setting—all of which are addressed in this piece.

meverett writes:

I didn't write the review. Just commenting that the scope of a restaurant review typically encompasses more than just the quality of the food.

Another factor of a review is that it's the opinion of the writer, not of the paper as a whole.

(I will add that "two slam reviews in a row" is a stretch, though. The Pup's BBQ piece was generally pretty glowing.)

mindmore writes:

I find the reviews to be insightful, witty and completely enjoyable to read.
Regardless of whether or not I agree, it's very invigorating to read such fun and
surprising syntax amidst the 10 word limit/9th grade level banality of most
media.

And as one of those snobby, New England elitist from one of them schools with
way too much ivy, thank you Metropulse for being willing to hire someone who
can...well, actually write.

chefderon writes:

The power of the pen can be a wonderful thing if it is used properly. I appreciate the writer's opinion, but I thought it would be interesting to point out that the restaurant being reviewed was designed by one of the most talented architects in this area who has won numerous awards for his designs and concepts, one of which was for Seasons Cafe. He both resides and has his office in the downtown Knoxville area and is very passionate about urban designs. He took his inspiration for the design of Seasons from many New York and other metropolitan restaurants. Before someone authors an editorial piece or review for everyone to read, they should be informed about what they are critiquing. As to the food, Seasons Cafe prides itself on the high quality food it prepares and strives to offer it at the best price possible. The innovative cuisine has been enjoyed by people from all over the country and other nations in its two years of existence. The numerous comments received by patrons have shown that Seasons service and cuisine have constantly exceeded their expecations.

HDuncan writes:

I am saddened by the author's review of Season's Cafe. I have been a regular patron of this establishment since they opened. I have always been delighted by the inventive and delectable dishes that chef Deron Little has created. He has an extraordinary understanding of how to pair unconventional ingrediants while producing a dining experience that is oh so gratifying to the palate. Season's offers so much to the diner. The menu is full of inventive choices and so diverse that even the the most hard to please diner can find a scrumptious meal awaiting them. I encourage any reader of the above review to disregard it's content and make a trip to Seasons Cafe as soon as possible. You won't be disappointed!

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