Seasonal delight

Seasons by Atlantica has an aggravating menu, a wonderful view and memorable food. Melissa Buote really wanted a hot dog.

The sublime calamari, with its airy and crisp breading, is a Seasons highlight. - MELISSA BUOTE
The sublime calamari, with its airy and crisp breading, is a Seasons highlight.

I was nine years old when I moved to Dartmouth. I'd spent most of my childhood living in the tiny village of Greenwood in the Annapolis Valley. Some of my first glimpses of Halifax were seen from the curved windows of what was then the Holiday Inn on Quinpool Road. Some of my first meals in Halifax were in the dining room that Seasons by Atlantica now calls home. Kids ate free; I ate hot dogs.

A lot has changed at the corner of Robie and Quinpool. While the view from the curved wall of windows is the same familiar swath of green toward the Common, the hotel itself has changed a lot. The restaurant has recently been renovated. It's spacious and modern, a large, bright space quieted with warm grays and browns.

The menu seems to bend toward accessible fine dining, but has an irritatingly pseudo-modern layout--- the dishes are written out like mathematical equations, creating vague expectations about the sum of the parts without giving a clear idea of the dish.

For appetizers we split the beets ($9) and calamari ($10). The calamari is cooked sublimely and the breading is airy and crisp. Unfortunately it's over-salted. The sauces--- jalapeno, tzatziki, pineapple and umeboshi--- do their part to mask the saltiness with bright and creamy flavours.

The beets are an incredible mix of complementary textures and deft touches of sweetness, acidity and creaminess. Warm, breaded fritters layering beet and cream cheese play against the crispness of a cold beet and the sweetness of a golden beet salad. It's a perfect appetizer. I would eat this dish every day for the rest of my life.

We choose salmon ($25), chicken ($24) and short rib ($24) as entrees. As we wait, a fancy-looking hot dog is delivered to a table with kids. Some things never change.

The salmon is cooked beautifully, the edges crisp with caramelization, the inside flaky and supple. As lovely as the fish is, the dish falls a little short of my expectations. I was promised a mascarpone crab ragout, corn, cherry tomatoes and a smoked paprika sauce. What I am given is one thick sauce plated below the fish that combines all of the components in a way that, while it tastes good, doesn't let the ingredients shine.

Everything in the chicken ($24) entree is also well-cooked, but while each component is delicious, the flavours don't really gel as a composed dish. While the chicken is tasty, the standout is the pea puree and wild rice. Once again the vague promise of the menu isn't met, but it's so close to being great.

The short rib ($24) is the highlight of the entrees, tender and wonderfully seasoned, with a delectably earthy barley and cepe mushroom risotto. Ribbons of cauliflower cooked with a hint of acid tie everything together.

We wrap up our meal by sampling three of the four desserts. The flourless banana cake ($8) is dense and rich, creamy and silky, chocolate adding depth without overwhelming the gently sweet banana. The Twist ($8) is a unique sundae made with mango caramel ice cream and finely diced lychee. Coconut curd adds to the tropical flavour, while peanut brittle crumbs at a crunch. The sampler ($9) also has an amazing fruity component---a pineapple cube filled with dulce de leche, topped with crisply burnt sugar. It also has a tiny root-beer float. They are unfailingly great desserts, a whimsical mix of sweet flavours.

I feel like I've nitpicked a little bit because, quite honestly, I really hate the menu at Seasons. Looking past that one little thing, I can honestly say I love the food.

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