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Cheesecake at 202 Market
Cheesecake at 202 Market
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The multi-level restaurant/nightspot’s fine food is the basis of its appeal and success. The forward-looking owners continue to tinker both with the dining fare and the overall character of 202.
The customers seated around the Gallery dining room at 202 Market on a recent Saturday night were all celebrating special occasions. A high-school homecoming-dance pair chatting nervously at a corner table. An older couple commemorating a wedding anniversary. A lively soon-to-be bride and her attendants tasting bites on each other’s plates.
The scene left me reminiscing about my mother-in-law, who always bemoaned the way so many modern families eat out several nights a week. In the 1960s, she would say, going to dinner was an occasion, one that demanded a nice dress and a string of pearls.
My husband has long described Roanoke as the kind of city where jeans are acceptable no matter the setting. Sandwiched between the dining room’s vivid paintings and the ultra-contemporary décor, I found myself thinking he might be wrong. At 202 Market, I’d feel conspicuous wearing anything other than my dressy best.
We started our meal with a first course fitting a special night out: the ravioli ($12). Chef Tom Ford had sent delicate pasta envelopes swimming in lobster broth along with bits of the succulant crustacean, corn and tomatoes. I followed that up with the spinach salad ($9), which paired the strong flavor of sherry vinaigrette with roasted red peppers and bacon. I tasted my husband’s arugula salad ($9) mixed with light parmigiana cheese dressing and succulant tomatoes and found it equally delightful, if slightly more pedestrian than my greens.
As we waited for our next course, Steve Rosenoff, an oncologist who owns 202 Market with another doctor Paul Richards, approached our table to introduce himself, visiting just long enough to make us feel welcome without being intrusive before moving on to speak with other diners.
My husband and I both agonized over what to order for an entrée. I lobbied heavily for him to get the hot pot ($26) a dish described as a mixture of scallops, shrimp, pork, mango and coconut, but he couldn’t resist the wholesome herb roasted chicken breast ($24).
Completely torn, I invited my server to pick between the filet ($35 for eight ounces; $45 for 10 ounces) and one of the night’s specials: the pan-roasted duck breast ($28). The server explained that specials are called special for good reason.
Two flat-screen televisions hung in the Gallery dining room capture all the magic happening in the kitchen. My husband and I delighted in watching the chefs plate our meals — like getting to watch Georgia O’Keefe put the last touches on a painting.
My duck breast came out looking as exquisite as any winning meal on “Top Chef.” Medallions of moist, sliced meat were carefully served upon wild mushrooms and open-faced ravioli. A rich port reduction provided sweet contrast to the meal.
I didn’t waste any time sampling my husband’s tender chicken breast. With this dish, 202 Market provides a sophisticated spin on a comfort food staple. In the midst of so many intricate flavors, though, I was surprised to find myself utterly obsessed with the accompanying yukon gold potato puree, a.k.a. the best mashed potatoes I’ve ever sampled.
We asked the waiter to box half of our meals, so we’d make sure to have room for dessert ($6 each). It proved to be a smart decision. My husband had the light-as-air Key lime pie served with homemade blackberry ice cream so good that it threatened to steal the spotlight even from the delicious pastry. I went with Tahitian vanilla creme brulee and delighted in the contrast between the crackling crust and the quivering custard.
On one of our visits to 202 Market, the host at the front of the house sat us in the empty Citybar lounge rather than offering a seat in the gallery dining room. My husband and I joked that maybe we weren’t dressed appropriately for upscale dining. We missed the glamour of the other room, but enjoyed the downtempo music and the surfer videos being projected near the bar.
And the food didn’t disappoint. We started with wonderful bruschetta ($6) drenched in tomato, lemon and garlic and topped with plump shrimp. Next, I had the ruby beets ($9). I ordered the dish on a friend’s recommendation despite harboring a strong loathing for beets. The combination of the spiced walnut, greens and bleu cheese transformed the normally distasteful herbaceous plant into a delectable treat nearly sweet enough to count as dessert.
My husband went for the Caesar salad, a favorite of Rosenoff’s. The chopped romaine, caesar dressing and parmigiano-reggiano was a wonderful interpretation of the standard, but it didn’t match the imaginative tour de force of my ruby beets.
The 202 Market staff does a wonderful job at pacing the courses; they leave enough time for digestion and conversation, but not so much time that diners begin to sneak glances at their watches.
For my entrée, I went with the grilled bone-in pork chop ($26) — a choice that earned me a scowl from my husband who stopped eating pork after watching “Babe” in the ‘90s. But what can I say? Pork chops are both delicious and enormous at 202 Market. That said, the mascarpone polenta with its oh-so-pleasing smooth texture distracted me from the rest of the meal until I spooned up the last, delicious bite. That polenta paired as it was with vegetables grilled to just the right firmness would make a good meal on their own for those against eating the other white meat.
I also enjoyed a few bites of my husband’s pan-seared crab cakes ($28). Paired with corn, asparagus and smoked tomato sauce, this was a straight-forward version of the popular dish. We’d hoped for something a bit more surprising, but then it seems greedy to complain about a perfectly made dish.
The man behind that dish is Roanoke oncologist Steve Rosenoff, who rather than, say, golfing, passes his free time trying to elevate Roanoke’s nightlife.
After long days working with patients, Rosenoff can usually be found in the evenings at 202 Market where he stays busy greeting guests, working with the staff and coming up with new ideas for how to use space in the grand, historic building situated in the heart of downtown.
“This is just the way I live my life,” says the fast-speaking Rosenoff. “I’m hyperactive. I like to be involved with things.”
Really involved. Most nights he eats his own dinner at a table in the Gallery dining room where he keeps a hawkish eye on the service his guests receive.
“I know what fine dining looks like,” Rosenoff says. “Dining is a form of entertainment. You could have eaten dinner at home, so I want everybody who comes in here to be treated special.”
Rosenoff admits some members of the staff call him a “superfussbudget.”
“I will taste everything and I’ll make them crazy until it’s right,” he says.
Tom Ford has withstood Rosenoff’s constant gaze since taking the executive chef slot at 202 Market about a year ago. Ford, a graduate of Johnson and Wales, helped to open 419 West and served as a chef at Vinton’s much-missed Café Succotash.
“We really wanted with Tom to go back to our original idea: I didn’t want food to be super eclectic,” Rosenoff says. “I wanted the protein to be recognizable. Paired well and with everything tasty and healthy.”
As a physician, Rosenoff understands that plenty of diners will come in wanting to watch their portions. That’s why everything on the menu comes in half-sizes.
Ford describes the current 202 Market menu as American cuisine with Mediterranean and Southern influences. While it’s upscale dining in an upscale building, both Ford and Rosenoff are careful to point out they’re not only catering to Roanoke’s upper crust.
Ford worked hard to create an affordable menu for the Citybar Lounge for these recessionary times. He points out that a hamburger and fries on that menu costs $8, about what you’d pay in the City Market Building. “It’s better quality and you get to have a waiter,” Ford says.
202: Many Things to Many Groups
202 Market co-owners Rosenoff and Paul Richards spent nearly two years renovating the sprawling building on the city market. In addition to the Citybar Lounge and the Gallery dining room, 202 Market offers the ultra-modern Loft, which can be rented for private functions and is open on Friday and Saturday nights for dancing to techno music, and a downstairs club space which boasts Latin music and dancing along with a patio.
Rosenoff’s latest hatched idea is a $40,000 climate-controlled wine room. Customers will can browse and pick out a wine to go with their dinners or buy a bottle to take home.
Initially, Rosenoff says he wanted 202 Market to be the spot for live music in Roanoke, but as other business owners have learned: It can be hard to make money selling live music.
“You can get away with it in New York City where there are tourists,” Rosenoff says. “They’re there for a weekend or a week and they’re just looking to see who’s there and they don’t care what it costs. That’s just not going to happen here.”
Transforming 202 Market into a “more young place” on the weekend, on the other hand, has proved profitable, according to Rosenoff.
“You have to respond to what people wanted,” he says. “People were telling us they really wanted dance music.”
Some customer have left reviews on the Internet complaining that 202 Market tries to be too many things to too many different types of customers. Ford shrugs when asked about that criticism.
“There are different venues here,” he says. “You come here you can have dinner. If you like, you can stay for the club afterward.”
202: If You Go
Type of food: American cuisine with Mediterranean and Southern influences
Dinner entrée price range: $12-$45; $5-10 for the Citybar menu
Location: 202 Market Square
Contact: 540-343-6644; 202market.net
Dress Code: People tend to dress up. You’ll feel underdressed in the Gallery dining room wearing jeans.
• Well-executed dishes
• Diverse menu, which offers choices low in salt and fat.
• Smaller portions are an option.
Diners should know: If they make reservations for 8 p.m., they’ll likely hear some club music as the DJs prepare for the dance scene which starts around 9:30 p.m.
Could use a bit of improvement: The front-of-house staff, who seemed less than knowledgeable on more than one occasion, should always offer dinner guests the option of sitting in the Gallery Dining Room.