To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted.
– Ecclesiastes 3:1-2
Despite America’s woeful economic situation, new restaurants continue to sprout faster than New Mexico’s unofficial state flower (no, not the ubiquitous orange traffic cone; the almost as omnipresent tumbleweed). Rarely does a week go by without some sparkly and shiny new restaurant opening up somewhere in the Duke City. Though most start off with much promise and potential, many restaurants are destined to suffer a fate similar to the dreaded and accursed tumbleweed. The average lifespan of most independent restaurant concepts is less than five years.
In 1995, Seasons Rotisserie & Grill was one of the shiny new restaurants with lots of promise and potential. Nearly two decades later, it continues to thrive against the onslaught of rigorous competition from newer, shinier and prettier new restaurants, outlasting many restaurants anointed the “next best thing” by the cognoscenti. Year after year, Seasons continues to be mentioned as one of the city’s very best restaurants and not in the condescendingly reverential tone reserved for the restaurants recognized for their greatness largely because they’re old. Seasons is still recognized as a player! In the April edition of New Mexico Magazine, Seasons was listed as one of the 50 reasons to love Albuquerque.
Launching on Mountain Road just north of Old Town was somewhat of a risk as the area was theretofore not considered a dining destination–at least not by locals. Tourists have, perhaps as a captive market, always flocked to Old Town’s eateries, but save for area residents, locals tended to dine elsewhere. Seasons changed that with a look and feel which defied the adobe-hued stereotype of area restaurants–that despite being comfortably ensconced in a modern Pueblo-style two-story stucco edifice.
Step inside and a contemporary milieu transports you to the wine country of Sonoma County, California. An elongated dining room adorned in muted terracotta and ocher tones seems somewhat smaller courtesy of a barrel-vaulted ceiling. The wood floors have a glossy sheen and appear immaculate enough to eat off of. A wine rack comprises one of the restaurant’s walls. The restaurant’s cynosure is an open exhibition kitchen whose own centerpiece is a wood-burning grill and rotisserie. Tables are adorned with crisp white linens and oversized flatware. A rooftop cantina transports you to yet another world where movers and shakers in the evening give way to beautiful people after sunset.
Seasons’ philosophy is to take the best ingredients and let them speak for themselves on simple dishes executed to perfection. There are no pretensions to keeping up with trends; it’s all about flavors, the way it should be. The menu changes seasonally (to everything there is a season) but several American classics such as rotisserie chicken, a 14-ounce boneless ribeye and sea scallops are available year round. Seasons prides itself on wine pairings. Even the dessert menu suggests which wines go best with each sweet treat.
The wine pairings come naturally because Seasons is the brainchild of Roger Roessler of Rosseler Cellars in Sonoma County. Roessler’s nephews, identical twin brothers Keith and Kevin own and operate Zinc and Savoy, two of the Duke City’s gourmet cuisine gems. At the triumvirate of Roessler owned restaurants, wines are selected to complement the bold flavors of the menus. Seasons also seems to recognize there are diners who eschew adult beverages when we’re driving, serving an absolutely addictive organic Guatemalan coffee roasted by Aroma Coffee of Santa Fe. The coffee is served hot, not lukewarm. That’s a big plus for me.
The wait staff is as polished as the stemware and as accommodating as any in the Duke City area. From the moment you’re seated, you’re in good hands (especially if you’re attended to by the lovely Hannah). Ask a question about local sources, ingredients, menu items or just about anything to do with your dining experience and the wait staff will either know the answer or will get it for you. Their timing in replenishing your beverages reflects an almost uncanny sense of timing.
Your dining experience begins with a half loaf of thickly sliced fresh bread and the best Balsamic vinegar, olive oil and spice combination in which to dip that bread. Those spices include black and red pepper which add a piquant boost. The bread comes from Albuquerque’s Fano Bread, an artisan style bakery which does not use preservatives or additives. Fano bread is characterized by freshness and flavor. A hard crust frames a soft, yeasty bread that’s perfect for dredging up sauces.
The appetizer menu includes several intriguing options, but savvy diners typically owner Seasons’ deep-fried calamari. While calamari is usually one of those de rigueur appetizers that rarely warrants any fanfare, Seasons elevates it to the very best in town. No other calamari is even close. It’s chewy but not to the rubber band texture of some calamari. It’s breaded lightly and it’s always fresh. The calamari is drizzled with a lemon aioli and is served in a pool formed by a roasted tomato salsa with a flavor profile that delves into piquant, sweet, savory and tangy elements. When you’re done with the calamari, you just might spoon up the salsa (or dredge it up with the bread).
…a time to pluck up that which is planted. Salads at Seasons are always a terrific appetizer or entree selection. A split portion is big enough for the former. The strawberries and butter lettuce salad is fresh, filling and fantastic and it’s not especially complicated or ingredient laden. It’s simply a combination of butter lettuce and baby spinach topped with crumbled chevre (goat cheese) sourced locally, toasted sliced almonds and sliced strawberries drizzled with a black pepper-Balsamic vinaigrette. The tanginess of the strawberries and the pungent creaminess of the chevre, in particular, go especially well together while the vinaigrette brings it all home.
One of the restaurant’s signature entrees is a rotisserie half chicken. Other restaurants in Albuquerque do rotisserie chicken well (some such as Pollito Con Papas uniquely and exceptionally so), but few, if any, give you the thrill of an exhibition kitchen in which you can see it prepared. If watching a skewered chicken rotate over an open flame is a thrill, wait until you taste it. The rotisserie keeps the chicken moist, its skin just slightly crisp. It’s seasoned very well. The rotisserie chicken is served with roasted new potatoes, a herb jus and julienne spring vegetables.
Another way to enjoy rotisserie chicken is on an entree of rotisserie chicken carbonara, a linguine pasta made with pancetta, spring peas and Grana Padano. Unlike some carbonara dishes, this one is not overly creamy, but that doesn’t mean it’s not moist. The linguine is al dente and may have been prepared in butter. The pancetta, a type of Italian bacon, is salt cured, but not overly salty, offering a nice contrast to the delicate rotisserie chicken. The Grana Padano has a flavor profile similar to Parmigiano Reggiano, but with more mild tones. The spring peas taste like freshly shucked peas out of the pod. This is a unique carbonara dish that doesn’t subscribe to what many might have in mind when they think carbonara, but it’s a good one.
There’s a reason scallops are a standard offering at Seasons. Perhaps no restaurant in Albuquerque prepares them quite as well. Jumbo scallops are pan-seared in a tarragon butter sauce and served with bacon grits, wild mushrooms and spring peas. The accompaniment is nearly as good as the entree and the scallops are fabulous. By the way, if a restaurant fails to ask you how you want your scallops prepared, it’s a disservice to you as a guest. My response, just as when ordering lamb, is ask that they be prepared as the chef sees fit. At Seasons, the scallops are best at medium rare, giving them a sweet and mild flavor.
The jalapeño-bacon grits will change your mind if you’ve ever thought grits were a bumpkinly dish with a flavor and texture of soggy and gritty corn meal. At Seasons, the grits are dense and cotton soft, but it’s the jalapeño and bacon combination which places these grits in rarefied company with the grits at The Hollar in Madrid as likely the very best in New Mexico. Bacon makes everything better, but it’s the incendiary qualities of the jalapeño that stand out most. The wild mushrooms we had turned out to be oyster mushrooms, my favorite fleshy fungi. Oyster mushrooms have a velvety texture and an amazing flavor vaguely reminiscent of oysters.
The dessert menu lists only a few items, but they’re all tempting. After having had a few bad experiences with lemon curd based desserts at French restaurants, we teased fate during an April, 2012 visit and ordered a chilled lemon souffle with a basil whipped cream and candied lemon peel. This dessert doesn’t emphasize the lip-pursing qualities of bitter lemons, but harnesses the qualities of freshness and citrus.
To everything there is a season. Albuquerque’s Seasons Rotisserie & Grill restaurant is a restaurant for all seasons in every conceivable way.
Seasons Rotisserie & Grill
2031 Mountain, N.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 09 April 2012
# OF VISITS: 4
BEST BETS:: Calamari, Strawberries & Butter Lettuce, Chilled Lemon Souffle, Pan Seared Sea Scallops, Rotisserie Chicken Carbonara,