Small Bites

Go fish: William Dissen, owner of The Market Place is one of the celebrity chefs selected by the Monterey Bay Aquarium for their Cooking for Solutions event in May. To learn more, visit cookingforsolutions.org. Photo by Michael Muller

The Market Place mixes it up

The Market Place, a downtown institution for over 30 years, will reopen on Tuesday, April 5, after undergoing a makeover to update both the look and feel of the venue. "Any business goes through evolutions," says chef and owner William Dissen, who took over The Market Place from Mark Rosenstein in 2009. "What better time to do it than right when spring starts? We're a farm-to-table restaurant trying to have a new beginning as spring starts."

Dissen is updating the restaurant with the help of local green builder Elm Construction, local architect Luke Perry and designer and furniture-maker Clint Brown. "We're going to have more of a 'rustic-refined' feel," he says. "There will be a lot more wood, stone, kind of a more natural feel, and to me that's what a farm-to-table restaurant should exude." To that end, all of the white tablecloths are gone, and the tables are now exposed to reveal locally crafted wood tops. New bamboo flooring is being installed, as is LED lighting.

A new, larger, poured-concrete bar may be the biggest change. It’s located near the front of the restaurant, where there’s more room for gathering than at the old bar. The new placement helps offer a change in focus for The Market Place. Dissen says that he hopes to offer a more approachable environment, with entertainment on weekend nights and lower prices on the menu.

"The bar menu is where we're trying to become a little bit more approachable and have a laid-back atmosphere," he says. Bar snacks and sandwiches, small and large plates and a rotating selection of local beers on tap are among the new offerings. Expect to see casual dishes like smoked-chicken egg rolls and Benton's prosciutto mac and cheese.

"The Market Place has always been known as a formal place to go out to eat, a place with high-end food and great products — a special-occasion-only kind of spot," Dissen says. "It might be hard to change that perception, but that's what we're trying to do."

The restaurant will still offer the same world-class fare it has before, just scaled down some, Dissen says. The tone of the menu will also be a bit less formal. "We do want people to still be able to come in and have a great dining experience, but we still want them to be able to come in and have fun,” he says. “Especially in this recession, people are looking to have mini-vacations when they go out to eat. The real focus of this innovation, however, is going to be on the bar area."

Dissen says that the bar will host DJs and laid-back live music that will wind up as regular dinner service is winding down. "I'm going to try to break the mold of the regular beer bar here in Asheville," he says. "I want a place where people can hang out, enjoy some music, some great mixology-style drinks and have a good time."

Part of providing a good time, says Dissen, is making sure that diners are able to leave The Market Place both satisfied and with money left in their pockets. "It's important to know what the people want and what they want to spend," he says. "You own a restaurant because you love making people happy, and for the love of great food and having fun. People aren't having fun nowadays if they're spending $300 on dinner. We feel that our food, pricing and the idea of our restaurant should not be overwhelming."

Starting in May, The Market Place will also offer lunch for the first time. Lunch items will be on the economical side as well. Of particular interest is the Cuban, with local pork, Benton's ham, Lusty Monk mustard and provolone on housemade ciabatta bread for $8. For more, visit marketplace-restaurant.com.

Springing into CSA season

On Saturday, March 26, get into the spring of things with the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project's "Meet the Farmers" event (2 until 6 p.m.) at the Asheville Brewing Company on Coxe Avenue, immediately followed by a performance by Red June at Highland Brewing Company in east Asheville (12 Old Charlotte Highway) from 6 until 8 p.m.

ASAP's event is an opportunity to meet farmers face to face, learn about their farm share programs and sample CSA products and other farm-fresh fare. For more information about the fair, including a list of participating farms, visit asapconnections.org/csafair.html.

The Red June event is an opportunity to cut loose with an Asheville-based acoustic Americana band, drink some of Highland's brews and give back to ASAP. How? Red June (named after an heirloom apple variety) donates $1 of their CD sales at each live show to ASAP. It's the mission of the band's Homegrown tour to highlight the importance of local agriculture.

"The tour has been going really well so far, and folks have been really responsive to our message," says fiddler Natalya Weinstein. "We had a great crew of farmers out at our Jack of the Wood show in January. We recently played a house concert in Nashville, and the hosts made appetizers and lasagna with ingredients from local farms and markets." For more information, visit redjunemusic.com.

A mélange of mountain fare

The Haywood County Chamber of Commerce hosts its Mélange of the Mountains on Thursday, April 7, from 5:30 until 8:30 p.m., at the Gateway Club, once a Masonic Lodge. The event is in its seventh year, and features food from various WNC restaurants and vendors, beer and wine.

A culinary competition with edible entries ranging from soup to seafood to dessert will also be featured, with Michael Fahey, WNC Culinary Association President, acting as lead judge. “The refinement of the culinary arts in our region is why cuisine in Western North Carolina is current and delicious," says Fahey. "Mélange of the Mountains gives the talented chefs of WNC a great venue to share their creations.”

Tickets are $35 for Chamber members and $40 for non-members. The Chamber will also have VIP-ticket upgrades available that include mezzanine seating, host staff and china dinnerware. For tickets and information, visit haywood-nc.com.

What’s going on in the wine world

On Tuesday, March 29, Weinhaus hosts a wine dinner at Kathmandu Café, a downtown Asheville restaurant that features Himalayan fare. “It is always an exciting challenge to pair wine with exotic cuisine,” says Weinhaus’s Pat Gill. Dinner starts at 7 p.m., and the cost is $45, including tax and gratuity. Call Weinhaus at 254-6453 to make reservations. For more information about Kathmandu, visit kathmanducafeasheville.com.

On Sunday, March 27 at 5 p.m., Santé hosts Girls Gone Wino. The theme is understanding the “nose” part of tasting wine. Says the description on Santé’s website: “Cherry or berry? Damp forest floor or mushrooms? And what the hell is a gooseberry and what does it smell like anyway? Sign up and find out!” For more information, visit santewinebar.com.

5 Walnut wine bar offers a $5 wine special every day. And every Thursday, from 5 until 7 p.m., the bar hosts a free wine tasting. Sunday sees an ever-changing rotation of $5 cava drinks. For more information about 5 Walnut, visit 5walnut.com.

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