Stephan Pyles’ fundraiser  sets lofty goal; Seasons 52 finally arrives in Texas

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor


TASTEFUL PURSUERS | Stephan Pyles, third from left, with the platoon of chefs preparing the annual dinner which aims to end childhood hunger in the U.S. by 2015. (Photo courtesy Carter Rose)

Stephan Pyles made a startling admission Sunday at his annual A Tasteful Pursuit dinner, which raises money for the anti-hunger charity Share Our Strength: More children go to bed hungry today than they did when Pyles helped found the organization. But that has not deterred Pyles from setting the goal of ending childhood hunger by 2015. It’s a startlingly ambitious aim that he came a little closer to achieving at the event this week.

Seven chefs from six restaurants (including two from Pyles’ namesake eatery) regaled $175-a-plate diners with lavish bites paired with wine (and some beer). Starting strong with a dessert-like fois gras mousse from chef R.J. Cooper (opening a new restaurant later this fall in Washington, D.C.), it ended just as sweet with Maggie Huff’s trio of deconstructed but delightful dolces with retro appeal: a Moon Pie, a Thin Mint and the best of the lot, a Snickers.

Pyles oversaw but did not cook a dish. The treat of that experience was saved for my tablemates, who bid $7,500 for a private dinner for eight prepared by Pyles himself at his home. A bid well-worth the experience — for a cause well-worth the effort.

At a time when so many businesses are suffering in the economy, it’s refreshing to go into a restaurant on a Wednesday night and see tables abuzz with diners. But at Oishii, they need to manage it better.

It’s frustrating to be told you’ll have to wait 35 minutes when you can see three cleared, empty tables in front of you; to be told it will be another 15 minutes after you’ve been waiting 45 minutes smacks of chaos. (We weren’t the only ones to complain either, although our fussing did miraculously get us our seats faster.)
The food itself is good as ever. I especially enjoy the crunch from the tempura roll and the spider roll, which were spackled with a miso glaze. The Philadelphia roll divided the table: Cream cheese is hardly traditional Japanese fare, and it tended to overwhelm the tuna, but it’s well-priced and tasty.

I’m just glad we ordered edamame (fresh pods well-cooked, though inconsistently salted) to start the meal. The rolls, which aren’t exactly complicated dishes, took forever to arrive following our prolonged wait in the bar without so much as the offer of a beverage.

“Nobody goes there anymore,” Yogi Berra once noted about a popular restaurant; “it’s too busy.” Good for Oishii to have a wait. But empty tables and a wait and slow dinner service? Might not be busy long, which would be a shame. The food is worth an effort, but there are limits.

It took long enough, but finally Seasons 52 is making it to Texas. I first tried the Florida-based restaurant in 2004 at the recommendation of then-Ciudad chef Joanne Bondy when I was headed to Orlando. The concept — all the entrees cap out at 475 calories; all the “mini-indulgence” desserts just 300; and everything made from the freshest ingredients selected for a rotating menu throughout the year — was an early adopter of local, healthy, good-tasting cuisine. I couldn’t wait to get it nearby.

It took six years, but the restaurant will open at the Shops at Legacy in Plano this October — the first Season 52 in Texas. Management is hiring for all positions starting Aug. 23. If one of the perks is free food, go.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 13, 2010.