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Carriage House cuisine pushes the envelope in Jacksonville

The atmosphere may be old-school. But the cuisine at Carriage House in Jacksonville is pushing the envelope just enough to earn a reputation for more than steaks, chops and the de rigueur dinnerhouse burger.

A few continental classics on the Carriage House menu heighten its appeal. Sauces, specifically, are so delicious that I felt an unfamiliar urge to lick my plate.

So it’s a shame Carriage House doesn’t provide complimentary bread to guard against diners’ uncouth enthusiasm. The house-baked baguette with butter is good enough, however, to warrant a $5 charge.

Even better is the warm demi baguette with the appetizer of wild mushrooms in warm citrus-thyme beurre blanc ($12). Because mushrooms invariably number among my favorite foods, selecting this starter was a foregone conclusion. Its highly favorable impression left me with even higher hopes that this dish will only get better during the high time for foraging.

With chanterelle season just kicking off, I had no quibble with the Carriage House’s reliance on dried and reconstituted fungus, whose flavors are more concentrated, even if they aren’t so suited to sautéing. That makes marinating the mushrooms in impeccably seasoned butter sauce a smart preparation, one that looks simple but harbors layers of technique. Diners at all inclined toward mushrooms would be supremely satisfied with this dish.

And with the rapid departure of summer produce, I couldn’t pass up one last chance for Caprese salad ($10). Carriage House does the Italian icon proud with heirloom tomatoes, basil-infused olive oil and mozzarella’s sister cheese burrata, essentially fresh mozzarella molded around a semi-liquid cream center.

Perfectly salted and accented with bits of fresh basil, the salad’s tomato slices luxuriated in a pool of grass-green oil. Again, I wished for a crust of bread to mop up the herbaceous fat mingled with tangy tomato juice. A glass of Quady North rose ($10) echoed the tomatoes’ sweetness while allowing the cheese’s delicate savor to come through.

Blue cheese has a starring role in the restaurant’s house salad with roasted pear, hazelnuts and bacon tossed with field greens. The other choice, also priced at $9, was a Caesar salad to which diners can add grilled chicken for another $5.

The addition of a braised chicken thigh was an $8 option with the risotto, which I ordered unadorned. Harking back to early summer, the dish featured carrots, fried leeks and pea shoots with brown butter ($28).

My partner clarified for the server’s query that he wanted the crispy short ribs ($32) as an entrée, not the appetizer portion for $12. While both come with house-made kimchi, the entrée adds Korean-style potato salad, which I was keen to try, although he was craving the buttermilk mashed potatoes that accompany both the coulotte steak ($32) and fried chicken ($24). The restaurant’s other entrees were fish of the day for market price and an 8-ounce burger with house-made fries for $15.

Our two meals couldn’t have been farther apart on the spectrum. The minimalist risotto was homogenous in its composition but saffron-hued with the distilled essence of carrot, not morsels of root vegetable as I anticipated.

Leeks all but imperceptible, the dish’s only adornment was a small handful of greens tangled with sprigs of Italian parsley, not pea shoots as advertised, arranged on a corner of the plate. Very lightly dressed with salt and oil, the salad harbored a few wilted and bruised leaves that I fastidiously excised.

The same assortment of greens lent vibrant color to the ribs plate, otherwise rendered in the ruddy browns and beiges of beef, potatoes and fermented cabbage. Yet the array — served on a cutting board with a hefty steak knife — made a strong visual statement.

Twice-fried, the short ribs were tender and succulent, if not falling off the bone. The kitchen’s judicious application of barbecue sauce made for fairly neat eating, and we didn’t require the warm, moist napkin coiled inside a cup at the side of the plate.

A creamier dressing on the potatoes — and more of it — would have contrasted nicely with the ribs’ crispy coating. A pronounced flavor on the plate was of togarashi, a Japanese blend of chiles and sesame seeds, sprinkled over both the ribs and potatoes.

The same seasoning finished the risotto, adding just the right heat that built on the back of the tongue after several bites. Apparently a theme for the Carriage House chef, similar spicing intensified the mushroom appetizer. Is that what made the sauces so compelling? It seemed probable, as I resorted to dipping my fingers in the risotto remnants when fork tines wouldn’t suffice.

Sated on Asian condiments, I somewhat reluctantly refused the flourless chocolate torte with miso-caramel ice cream. Summer’s siren song of blackberries and lavender was calling in Carriage House’s house-made sorbet with vanilla streusel, crème fraiche and candied lemon peel ($9).

Composed like an abstract painting, the dessert cushioned shards of sorbet on a puddle of crème fraiche studded with the streusel and garnished with a few casually arranged berries and fresh mint leaves. For all of its visual appeal, the dish was a symphony of textures and temperatures, tempering the tongue-numbing quality of icy, astringent sorbet with silky, cool cream, cookie crumble and a hard candy crunch.

Its menu subject to seasonal changes, Carriage House looks poised for a deft transition to cold-weather fare. It’s unfortunate that seating on the restaurant’s expansive, well-appointed patios won’t make the transition as easily. I recommend grabbing an outdoor table overlooking the elegant Nunan Estate while conditions are still favorable.

Located at 625 N. Oregon St., Carriage House is open from 5 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. Reserve at carriagehousejacksonville.com or call 541-899-3190. Online ordering for pickup and delivery is available.

Tempo Tidbits

Kaleidoscope Pizzeria & Pub has resumed its to-go operation after a two-week staff quarantine.

The Medford restaurant suspended takeout at its Good to Go location for two weeks when an employee tested positive for the coronavirus, said service manager Joey Ross. Although none of the employee’s co-workers exhibited symptoms, and they all tested negative for the virus, they were quarantined as a precaution, said Ross. Kaleidoscope reinstated takeout services Sunday, he added.

Kaleidoscope’s Good to Go lobby at 1923 Delta Waters Road remains closed to limit person-to-person contact. Takeout customers are instructed to text the establishment’s curbside pickup number upon arrival, and staff will bring orders to specified parking spots. Find more information and Kaleidoscope’s to-go menu at kaleidoscopepizza.com

The perennially popular pizzeria’s online ordering system went live a couple of months ago, said Ross. It complements Kaleidoscope’s auxiliary kitchen dedicated to takeout, which opened in 2017 to free up the main restaurant kitchen for serving dine-in customers at 3084 Crater Lake Highway. Takeout had grown by about 50 percent in the two years preceding the debut of Kaleidoscope’s to-go operation.

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It looks like mint, but a superfood lends the green tint to Sweet Cream’s newest ice cream flavor.

Powdered blue-green algae is the secret ingredient in the Medford ice cream shop’s Spirulina Cookie Monster. Typically consumed as a nutritional supplement, spirulina offers a dose of B vitamins, essential minerals, including iron, copper, magnesium, manganese and potassium, as well as protein.

The special flavor for October is augmented with pieces of crunchy Oreo cookies and chewy chocolate chip cookies. Sweet Cream crafts its ice creams in small batches using seasonally fresh ingredients, locally grown and produced when available.

Located inside Rogue Organic Cafe, 226 E. Main St., Sweet Cream is open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Order pints online at sweetcream-icecream.com

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

Big Al’s Drive-In, Ashland; Centennial Grille, Medford; Central Point Perk & Bakeshop, Central Point; Clyde’s Corner, Phoenix; El Molcajete Mexican Grill, Medford; Falafel Republic, Ashland; Human Bean, South Pacific Highway, Medford.

The county’s searchable database of restaurant and food service inspections is 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 @the.whole.dish on Instagram, @thewholedish on Twitter or see facebook.com/thewholedish.

Carriage House's Caprese salad is prepared with burrata cheese.
House-made blackberry-lavendar sorbet comes with vanilla streusel, crème fraiche and candied lemon peel at Carriage House in Jacksonville.