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Melange Eatery appeals to health-conscious habits

The subterranean space at Medford’s 406 E. Main St. is a refuge for restaurant diners from the summer swelter.

And the light, clean flavors at Melange Eatery refresh the palate and nourish the body. Describing its cuisine as plant-based Asian fusion, Melange appeals to vegetarians, vegans, keto, Paleo and gluten-free dieters, as well as anyone who still wants to uphold health-conscious habits while dining out.

Classical French and Japanese culinary techniques inform the menu created by chef Brian Igarta. Born and raised on Maui, Igarta has prepared only plant-based dishes for the past two decades. It’s an ethic suited to a variety of dietary trends and emerging interest in meat alternatives within the mainstream.

Igarta met Gia Radoias five years ago, and their plan to open a plant-based eatery began to take shape. The duo’s collective travels and ethnic influences, including Radoias’ native Romania, are the roots of Melange, which opened late last year.

It took me longer than I expected to finally visit Melange, which in the meantime had been developing a menu more suited than its original to takeout. Delivery is available through Grubhub.

But I wanted to see how Igarta and Radoias had situated Melange in one of the region’s most unusual restaurant suites, long home to Deli Down and, more recently, Sakana Co. Melange retains some of the casual but classy vibe that Sakana established with burnished woodwork and modern metal chairs. Playing up the Asian aesthetic, a lounge furnished with shabby-chic upholstery is presided over by a statue of Buddha.

Descending the staircase from street level to Melange’s basement digs, customers can order either under the large menu board at the front counter or claim a table. I waited in the entry for a few minutes until my friend joined me, so we took the opportunity to order immediately at the counter and then have our pick of tables in the spacious dining room.

We briefly debated the merits of sushi-like veggie rolls, Thai-style summer rolls, flash-seared shishito peppers or tofu as starters. It had been several weeks since I’d eaten tofu, and my friend and I agreed that we both favor the spicy Korean sauce gochujang.

In a similar vein, my friend selected the Korean specialty bibimbop ($12). Melange’s version of this rice bowl features carrots, onions, spinach, mushrooms and bean sprouts.

Intrigued by Melange’s deconstructed lasagna with almond “ricotta,” I opted instead for cold soba noodles ($16), more familiar and buoyed in their oolong tea-steeped sauce by pickled vegetables and kimchi.

A pesto panini and puff pastry-based dish characterized as chickpeas “a la king” are the only items that aren’t gluten-free or offer the option of being prepared gluten-free. A separate menu section boasts “live,” plant-based burgers and tacos, in addition to a salad of mixed greens, black beans, corn and veggies dressed with strawberry-tomato gastrique.

The display case’s array of sweets — coconut tapioca, banana cream pie, apple strudel, a raw brownie and “cheezcake” — were tempting and attractively priced from $4 to $7. But as usual, I’d pledged my calorie quota on appetizers instead of dessert.

My friend and I commented that we smelled our tofu’s garlic, ginger and peppers wafting through the dining room as we sipped iced hibiscus and rooibos teas ($3 apiece). Organic, fresh vegetable juices cost $5 to $7 for 12 ounces, and there also is a variety of organic teas served hot.

The tofu arrived smothered in a brick-red sauce juxtaposing earthy and spicy notes, garnished with sesame seeds and scallions. The portion, priced at $9, easily would feed four diners.

And my friend, who had added tofu to her bibimbop for an extra $1.50, had more bean curd on her hands than she could finish. Each of her vegetables was lightly wok sautéed to preserve its crunch and character atop a bed of white rice. Brown rice can be substituted for an additional dollar.

My buckwheat noodles were a canvas for bright-purple pickled onion, golden root vegetables and verdant scallions, along with a half head of bok choy, grilled on its cut side. The only component that seemed misplaced was dried chanterelle mushrooms. I love mushrooms of all varieties, chanterelles in particular. Yet I wondered why the chef wouldn’t chose a different fresh fungus in season — oyster mushrooms, perhaps — once the autumn and winter heyday for chanterelles had passed.

If fresh chanterelles were indeed to be had, I’d make a point to come back and try them in Melange’s “a la king” smothered in a white sauce. I’d also relish Igarta’s iteration of artichoke dip, enveloping artichoke hearts and green chiles in a cashew cream sauce.

Melange is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday and until 2 p.m. Friday. See the menu and order at melangeeatery.com. Call 541-500-1063.

Tempo Tidbits

One of the region’s favorite restaurant patios has reopened.

Thai Pepper in Ashland is welcoming customers back to its outdoor dining area along Ashland Creek after a six-month closure. During the hiatus, owner Billy Harto replaced the kitchen hood system to comply with fire codes and remodeled the restaurant interior from floor to ceiling. While the main kitchen gained a state-of-the-art hood system, stoves and refrigeration, Thai Pepper continued to operate from its street-level bar kitchen.

Loss of revenue during recent smoky summers almost derailed the remodel, said Harto’s daughter, Amanda Harto. Initially, Thai Pepper’s creekside suite was available for another restaurant to lease, but it remained vacant long enough that Billy Harto decided to move forward with remodeling. The restaurant reopened in its original location last week.

“After 30-plus years, we felt Thai Pepper’s true place was next to the creek,” said Amanda Harto.

See thaipepperashland.com.

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Oyster aficionados can eat from the source in North Bend.

Oregon’s largest oyster farm, Clausen Oysters, opened a restaurant last summer at its processing facility on Haynes Inlet. The restaurant prepares Clausen’s cultivated Silver Point and Moon Rock oysters, which are shipped by air and distributed along the West Coast. Clausen’s oyster beds are situated in Coos Bay between the historical McCullough Bridge and Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area.

Diners can sample Clausen oysters raw, fried, broiled, piled on po’ boys, stuffed into tacos and simmered in chowder. The menu also features fresh Oregon pink shrimp, salmon burgers and all-beef hotdogs from Taylor’s Sausage in Cave Junction. Customers can purchase live oysters in their shells, as well as shucked and smoked oysters. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Follow the signs from Highway 101 to 66234 North Bay Road. See clausenoysters.com

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The following Medford restaurants in June received perfect scores of 100 on their semiannual inspections by Jackson County Environmental Public Health:

Johnny B’s, KFC (Barnett Road), Maguey Cocina & Tequilas, Memo’s Kitchen, Puck’s Donuts, Round Table Pizza, Subway Sandwiches (Center Drive), Taco Bell (Crater Lake Highway), Taco Delite, Yumberry Bowl.

See the county’s searchable database of restaurant and food service inspections at healthspace.com/Clients/Oregon/jackson/Web.nsf/home.xsp

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Have a Tempo tidbit to share? Email news about the local dining, food and beverage scene to: thewholedish@gmail.com

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Sarah Lemon has relished the Rogue Valley’s dining scene for nearly two decades as one of the original contributors to Tempo’s dining column. Her palate has helped to judge some of the region’s culinary competitions and festivals. The former editor of A la Carte, the Mail Tribune’s weekly food section, she writes a biweekly column, The Whole Dish, and blogs and podcasts under the same name. Listen at mailtribune.com/podcasts and read more at mailtribune.com/lifestyle/the-whole-dish. Follow thewholedishblog on Instagram, @thewholedish on Twitter or see facebook.com/thewholedish.

“Dubu jorim” is a Korean-style tofu dish.
Vegetarian bibimbop with tofu at Melange Eatery in Medford. Photos by Sarah Lemon