"Eating is an event with us," said Hai Fitzgerald, owner of Thyme & Seasons Market Place, describing the unique experience diners can expect.
Fitzgerald was raised on a rice farm in the Mekong Delta. He grew up eating foods fresh from the garden that were in season. He describes those meals as "simple yet tremendously refreshing."
Bringing his experiences with food in Vietnam with him, Fitzgerald came to the United States in 1975 and trained in a classical French restaurant in Washington, D.C.
Fitzgerald went on to have a successful 30-year career as a computer consultant, but he continued to work part time in restaurants because food was his first love and true passion.
In August 2008, Fitzgerald opened his own restaurant. He said that creating food and interacting with customers makes him feel like a kid in a big toy store every day.
The restaurant began with only one entree, the Thyme & Seasons Grilled Chicken ($8.75/full or $5/half), glazed with Fitzgerald's own special spice blend, served with rice and salad.
Now there are 30 choices, including pastas ($5-$11), Thai dishes ($9.75-$16.75), Chinese Stir Fry ($8-$12.75) and BBQ Ribs ($13.75). And Fitzgerald has cycled through hundreds of different dishes with the changing seasons.
Fitzgerald said the most important thing to him is using the freshest, highest quality ingredients while they are in season. He buys locally whenever possible.
Most of his foods, including pastries, are gluten-free, since he's discovered a large number of people with celiac disease live in the area. Because he prepares all meals from scratch, Fitzgerald says, he can cater to any dietary restrictions.
He says he's so picky about his ingredients that it took him two years to find just the right Italian flour with a high protein content for his Neapolitan pizza ($10.75-$14.75). Now, he's looking into pressing his own olive oil.
At first glance, Thyme & Seasons Market Place appears quite casual. But the food includes fine dining options such as fresh grilled salmon ($15.75) and prime rib ($18.75) on the weekends.
Some favorite desserts from scratch include the Thyme & Seasons Flourless Chocolate Cake ($1.75) and Heaven and Earth ($4), a New York cheesecake topped with creme brulee.
The design of the restaurant intentionally leaves the kitchen exposed to customers, so that they can be part of the process.
"I have always viewed eating out as an adventure for the senses, just as much a feast for the eyes and nose as the taste buds," Fitzgerald said.
Catering and private cooking classes are also available.