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Bistro pub Onyx bets on familiar fare

High hopes go hand in hand with news that Jacksonville’s storied Nunan Estate will reopen under Doug and Becky Neuman, who have revitalized several properties in the region.

Similarly high hopes herald the reopening of the 1892 estate’s restaurant, which retains some unique features installed by the original chef operators. Onyx derives its name from the onyx-topped bar surrounding an exhibition kitchen designed by restaurateurs Tim and Dana Keller.

The Kellers’ Carriage House conjured a dining experience as singular in Southern Oregon as the estate’s 16-room Queen Anne-style mansion. But the restaurant shuttered after several years, along with the rest of the property early in the decade.

Now, business owners Elizabeth Wimberly-Chavez and chef Mario Chavez have re-opened the restaurant. But rather than gambling on inventive cooking and plating techniques, the chef is betting on more familiar fare. The bistro-pub, wine-bar persona of Onyx engenders an eclectic yet straightforward menu that appeals to a wide audience.

Dishes are categorized as “small,” “medium” and “large,” priced from $4 for warm baguette with compound butter to $24 for the rib-eye steak. Chavez also has made good on plans to highlight Jacksonville’s early Chinese settlers with some Asian-inspired items. Fried rice, Beijing wings and plum-sauced ribs complement the menu’s more mainstream burgers, fries, salads and pasta dishes.

The menu’s mid-range price of $9 to $10 invites sampling and sharing. Among our party of four, two appetizers, two salads, four entrees and two desserts made up the meal.

We started with golden truffle fries ($7), a generous portion of potatoes seasoned with Parmesan, garlic, truffle powder and white truffle oil. Almost any food becomes luxurious in truffle’s presence. But these fries could have used a dash and splash more of the distinctive savor.

What the fries lacked, the “foggy” beet salad ($9) furnished in spades with large dollops of Cyprus Grove’s signature Humboldt Fog goat cheese. Hefty chunks of roasted beets and beet-pickled, hard-boiled eggs comprised the salad, whose greens seemed more of an afterthought.

The same magenta-hued egg enlivened the Caesar salad that otherwise lacked visual interest. Caesar and house salads each are priced at $6 for small, $9 for large.

Also in need of some color, the fried rice ($14) represented a hearty helping of chicken, bacon and vegetables topped with a sunny-side-up egg. Ginger was prominent in the preparation, which incorporated chilies without being spicy.

A sunny-side-up egg dominated my “cacio e pepe” ($10), billed as grown-up macaroni-and-cheese but actually one of Italy’s most beloved, if simple, pasta dishes. Egg makes a meal of spaghetti dressed with butter, cheese and black pepper. Onyx’s version boasts truffle powder, which again, wasn’t discernible as such. But I happily devoured the portion.

My husband and friend went all out for salmon ($18) and steak ($24), which represent some of the lowest restaurant prices I’ve seen for these proteins. Portions of both were on the small side, however, which could have contributed to overcooking, as well. Sauces on both plates did garner some praise.

The short list of desserts didn’t seem particularly promising, but we selected a surprise winner. The lightly textured monkey bread ($6) conveyed addictive banana flavor with a judicious drizzle of caramel.

A bit more polish at Onyx likely would go far with Nunan Estate’s overnight guests. Given a few adjustments and adornments, the cuisine at this beloved venue could really shine.

At 635 N. Oregon St., Onyx is open from 4 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. Call 541-702-2700.

The beet salad at Onyx features large dollops of Cyprus Grove's signature Humboldt Fog goat cheese, hefty chunks of roasted beets and beet-pickled, hard-boiled eggs. Mail Tribune / Sarah Lemon