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Noonie's Boba Tea entices diners with a complex menu

Newcomer Noonie’s Boba Tea in downtown Medford headlines a popular Asian beverage. But diverse culinary traditions — Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese and even Laotian — inform chef Noon Korapat’s menu for a unique taste of her native Thailand.

The food certainly transported me beyond the former location of Paisans Italian Bistro on Central Avenue. I likened Noonie’s innovation and authenticity to establishments in Portland or San Francisco over lunch with my sister, a former resident of the Rose City. She heartily agreed between mouthfuls of impeccably seasoned papaya salad, succulent shumai dumplings and gelatinous tapioca pearls that distinguish “bubble tea” from typical Thai iced tea or coffee and smoothies.

Almost more complex than the food menu, the chalkboard listing boba tea options instructs customers to choose a tea or smoothie base: black, green or fruit-flavored tea, Thai tea or coffee, Korean strawberry or fruit blended with milk. Nondairy mixers complement conventional dairy. Sweetener can be as little or as much as customers desire, and boba come as tapioca pearls, flavored gelatin cubes and “popping” beads. Or skip the chewy morsels that lend their name to the beverage.

With so many ways to customize, boba can add up fast. I ordered a standard 16-ounce matcha milk tea with tapioca for $4.95. For first-timers, Noonie’s suggests customer favorites, including “tiger’s milk,” “dragonfly,” “starry night” and “red, white and blue.”

Small plates, salads and desserts are enticing grab-and-go snacks while Noonie’s rice bowls, noodle dishes and three types of pho make hearty meals. Since opening in December, Noonie’s continues to boost its appeal with fusion items, such as chicken wonton tacos, as well as “party packs” for Super Bowl. Conspicuously absent are curries and pad Thai, differentiating Korapat’s genre of cooking.

Keen to try a variety, I requested pork- and shrimp-filled shumai, as well as steamed buns filled with barbecued pork, only to hear the latter was not available. Make that a double order of shumai, which totaled $10.

A sampler plate comprising two Chinese style dumplings, two Japanese style dumplings and one bun ($8) has since been added to the menu.

Also in the realm of appetizers, Thai style salad rolls ($7) are among my sister’s favorites. Substituting shrimp for the typical chicken or tofu costs an extra $2. And because I couldn’t pass up a lesser known dish, I ordered papaya salad ($9), which features anchovies and sweet crab for an additional $5 in the version that Noonie’s credits to Laos and northern Thailand.

A few tables separating Noonie’s facade from the sidewalk invited dining on site, rather than carrying out our order. The papaya salad arrived in a clear clamshell takeout container, attractively arranged with a lettuce leaf, lime wedge, cucumber spear and slab of green cabbage.

Even more vibrant than the colors of green beans, carrots and tomatoes were the flavors — salty, spicy, zesty and funky from Thailand’s indispensable fish sauce and the salad’s other seafood components. The heat may be on the intense side for some diners, I told my sister, but without it, the crab and anchovies would be too much.

Korapat’s seasoning was so spot on that I felt no urge to squeeze the lime wedge over the salad. And the dish’s textures were no less remarkable for the crunchy cucumber and bean sprouts, buttery hearts of palm and tender shrimp, plus one ingredient that threw me a curveball.

Inferring from Noonie’s menu that the salad’s crab was a softshell type, I hoped to clarify, and Korapat attempted to explain how it’s typically eaten. Still unsure how to proceed upon locating a corpulent claw in the salad, I tried biting through the shell. Ultimately, I settled on sucking the juices and viscous innards from the crustacean where the appendages had been separated from its body. Unaccustomed to consuming crab that way, I wasn’t enamored of it, but fearing the salad’s seasoning might suffer without the shellfish, I’d still request it next time.

More approachable to American palates are Noonie’s shumai, intensely savory without any fishiness from the shrimp. The wrappers had the chew of homemade dough and slightly irregular folds. The filling even betrayed a lump of pork gristle, leading me to believe that these were made in house, a laborious process that so many restaurants skip by purchasing frozen dumplings. Several dipping sauces were included, each intensifying the dish’s umami with soy sauce and sesame oil.

We were eager to try the peanut sauce that accompanies Noonie’s salad rolls. But it had been chilled until solidified. Using chopsticks, we scraped some sauce from its container and smeared it onto the rolls, but the effect didn’t do justice. And although freshly prepared with verdant vegetables and rosy shrimp, the rolls’ clean flavor was eclipsed by Noonie’s other recipes.

The flavor in Noonie’s pho also wasn’t quite as deep as I expected. Ordering the oxtail soup ($15) on a return visit, I was rewarded with the heady scent of star anise. The broth proved light, however, instead of having the body of a good bone stock.

But Noonie’s didn’t skimp on the actual meat, almost in equal ratio to the pho’s rice noodles. I focused on the oxtail and its chewy connective tissue around the center bone. Sated, I asked for a to-go container and heaped it with enough pot roast-textured beef, plus some rarer slices, to feed my two kids the following evening.

My boys almost certainly would appreciate a “bubble waffle,” Noonie’s signature dessert with fruity syrup and whipped cream. With new items and specials practically every week, Noonie’s menu is an itinerary for a Southeast Asian culinary adventure.

Located at 149 Central Ave., Noonie’s is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Call 541-941-6022. Delivery is available through DoorDash. Noonie’s boba tea and smoothies also are available at Heroes American Cafe in Medford. Look for Noonie’s Grants Pass location to reopen on Northeast F Street following renovations.

Tempo Tidbits

Gluten-free baked goods — Brazilian style — are the cornerstone of a new Ashland eatery.

Vida Baking Co. opened Feb. 5 at 149 N. Pioneer St. with pastries, muffins, rolls and breads, including the Brazilian specialty “pão de queijo.” This traditional recipe has been baked in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais for more than 200 years from cassava root starch, cheese, eggs, milk, oil and salt, according to Vida’s website

A full menu of sandwiches, breakfast staples, such as pancakes and waffles, and “bowls,” including acai and granola, will debut in a couple of weeks. Vegetarian dishes complement pork, turkey and fish. Items are priced from $6 to $10.50.

Vida relocated from Santa Barbara, California, where it stocked several grocers with bread. The owner became fond of Ashland after visiting friends in the area.

Hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, until 3 p.m. Sunday, when breakfast is served all day. Call 541-708-0562. See facebook.com/vidabakingco or follow @vidabakingco on Instagram.

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Harry & David is setting a virtual table for its Hosted Dinners.

A March 16 collaboration with Medford’s DANCIN Vineyards features three courses to assemble at home using Harry & David ingredients with instruction from DANCIN chef Desiree Baird and paired with DANCIN wines. Participants also can take a virtual tour of the vineyard with DANCIN co-owner Dan Marca.

Cost is $65 per person. Reserve at harryanddavid.com/hosted-dinners and pick up the take-and-bake meal, wine and table setting at DANCIN, 4477 S. Stage Road. Log into the event from 6:30 to 8 p.m.

The salad course incorporates toasted quinoa, blue cheese and Harry & David green olive spread paired with Chaine Chardonnay. The chicken piccata entree is served with fresh pappardelle pasta and Harry & David artichoke-lemon pesto paired with En Croix Chardonnay. Dessert, a duo of cannoli with Harry & David truffles, accompanies Synergy red blend.

More Hosted Dinners are planned through July with Larks Home Kitchen Cuisine, Hummingbird Estates, Downtown Market Co. and Grizzly Peak Winery.

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Dining on the patio and heated deck at Ashland’s Hither is due to resume today.

Reservations are highly recommended and can be made at Resy.com or by calling 541-625-4090. Hither is open from 3 to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday through Monday.

Located at 376 E. Main St., Hither touts “Fried Chicken Fridays” and also offers meal kits and “larder baskets” for purchase at hithermarket.com/shop. February’s basket features Oregon Coast crab, housemade fettuccini, ricotta, bread, salad mix, housmade condiments, spices, coffee and wine for $100.

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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.

Shumai dumplings and salad rolls are specialties of Noonie’s Boba Tea in downtown Medford. Photo by Sarah Lemon.
Iced matcha and Thai coffee with tapioca pearls are among the numerous “bubble teas” at Noonie’s Boba Tea in downtown Medford.{ }