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Island comfort classics and street food darlings at The Millennial

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Bao buns come with a choice of fillings at The Millennial in Rogue River. Photo by Sarah Lemon.
Lumpia, Filipino-style egg rolls, are served with sweet chile sauce at The Millennial in Rogue River. Photo by Sarah Lemon.
Lumpia, Filipino-style egg rolls, are served with sweet chile sauce at The Millennial in Rogue River. Photo by Sarah Lemon.
Musubi is Hawaiian comfort food served at The Millennial in Rogue River. Photo by Sarah Lemon.
A special ahi tuna burger is cooked to medium rare at The Millennial in Rogue River. Photo by Sarah Lemon.

The Millennial brings a new generation of cuisine to Rogue River.

Open since February in the former location of a burrito shop, the casual eatery mingles a family’s Hawaiian roots with a decade of Las Vegas cooking and living. The result is a restaurant that feels fresh, playful and optimistic for new opportunities in the industry.

Alongside island comfort food classics are street food darlings. Health-conscious options have their counterpart in decadent desserts. Evading ethnic labels, The Millennial offers enough variety at attractive prices that its entire menu invites sampling.

The Millennial’s “specialties” indeed set it apart from other Hawaiian-inspired restaurants I’ve tried locally. Bao are traditional Chinese steamed buns adopted by food trucks in recent years essentially as Asia’s answer to tacos.

The Millennial prepares its bao with fried teriyaki chicken, slow-braised pork belly, ponzu-glazed brisket, roasted and pulled kalua pork and a vegetarian mixture of shiitake mushrooms, water chestnuts and bok choy. Each gets a topping of sesame slaw, pickled red onions and a side of Maui onion chips for $11. I ordered the veggie.

Pork belly did pique my appetite, but more so in the musubi, an island icon that often celebrates Spam. The Millennial glazes the canned mystery meat in sweet soy, before padding it in rice and sealing it in nori, for this supersized sushi roll. I was more eager, however, to try another filling. Pork belly beat out brisket, teriyaki chicken with avocado and the same veggie mixture available inside the bao. Priced from $4 for Spam to $6 for other meats, musubi comes with a choice of side.

My partner was game for the day’s special ahi burger, topped with sesame slaw, seaweed salad and tomatoes with a side of onion chips ($15). A burger made with ground sirloin and pork cooked in a cast iron pan and served on a brioche bun is a menu mainstay for $12. Adding a fried egg costs an extra dollar.

And while those items already constituted an ample meal, we couldn’t skip the Philippines’ quintessential egg roll, lumpia. The portion of four filled with either vegetables or pork and vegetables costs $7.

The lumpia came out first, freshly fried, impeccably crunchy yet light. Sweet chile sauce on the side heightened the flavors, but we could have happily eaten twice the number of veggie-filled rolls, even without condiments. Much as I loved the lumpia, next time, I’d be hard-pressed to pass up the furikake-seasoned, deep-fried calamari strips with wasabi cocktail sauce ($8).

The delicate bao also played like an appetizer, particularly when split between two people. My partner ventured that pork belly or fried chicken would be his first choice of filling, but I declared the sautéed shiitakes, blended until creamy with water chestnuts, surprisingly delicious, reminiscent of tender ground meat with a clean flavor that didn’t overpower the pillowy bao and assigned more purpose to the cabbage slaw and pickled onions. The dish was one of the most satisfying meat alternatives I’ve had in recent months.

The veggie filling wouldn’t be as successful on my palate in the musubi, densely packed with rice and finished with a chewy seaweed wrapper. I love both elements, but they need an equally hearty companion, and the pork belly filled the bill. Although savory, the pork also was bland, in keeping with many Hawaiian dishes, convincing me that soy-glazed Spam may be worth trying next time.

My partner may have enjoyed the musubi more if the employee at the counter had asked which side dish we preferred. Failing to notice the menu’s fine print, we didn’t specify one of seven choices, including potato salad, pickled daikon and carrots, green papaya salad or cucumber kimchi. So the kitchen defaulted to more onion chips.

The chips were the ideal accompaniment to the tuna burger, a dish that I love seeing on menus but usually approach with a bit of skepticism. Any one of the components — a cheap bun or lack of textural contrast, for example — can cause the entire burger to fall flat.

The Millennial’s hit the mark with its crunchy slaw and rich, buttery bun. It sacrificed perfection for tuna in slices that escaped onto the plate, instead of a steak that stayed put. The fish was beautifully seared, however, retaining its ruby hue under a thin layer of mild-flavored, pink flesh. A dash of spice would have elevated my appreciation.

I may get the spice I’m craving in The Millennial’s soba noodle salad, tossed with Hawaiian chile pepper water and julienned green papaya, carrot and cucumber with basil, cilantro, cherry tomatoes and kimchi. More mainstream salads are “The Rogue,” featuring organic greens, carrots, cabbage, bell peppers and cucumber with sesame vinaigrette and a Caesar with housemade croutons. Salads cost $8 apiece. Adding protein costs between $5 for teriyaki chicken and $8 for mahi.

And for meat-focused meals, The Millennial’s “plates” combine rice and potato salad with teriyaki chicken, brisket, twice-cooked pork riblets or peppered steak ($12-$13). Hawaii’s beloved “loco moco” pairs a gravy-topped hamburger steak with a fried egg ($12), and the chef’s daily fish special costs $20 with rice and Caesar salad.

Located at 308 E. Main St., The Millennial is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Call 541-821-6311. See themillennialrestaurant.com

Tempo Tidbits

Guests at local wineries can design their own handmade mugs while sipping favorite vintages.

Sip & Paint returned to wineries in May after canceling pottery parties amid pandemic-related precautions. The events are presented by Medford ceramic artist Benjamin Wood, owner of Studio B, which has a booth at Medford and Grants Pass farmers markets.

“It’s so exciting!” says Wood. “It’s been more than a year,” he says of postponing parties during the pandemic.

The next Sip & Paint is planned from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Naumes Suncrest Winery in Talent, where Wood will demonstrate the ancient Italian technique “sgraffito” for decorating ceramics. All tools and materials are provided, and finished cups are collected, fired at Wood’s studio and returned to the winery for pickup. Pieces are microwave- and dishwasher-safe.

The cost is $40 per person, not including wine. Purchase tickets via the Eventbrite link on Naumes’ Facebook page, facebook.com/NaumesSuncrestWinery, or Instagram profile, @naumessuncrestwinery

Sip & Paint also brings pottery parties to Medford’s RoxyAnn Winery the first Thursday and third Sunday of each month. Wood, who also hosts private parties, says more local wineries and restaurants will be on his schedule throughout the summer. See studiobllc.com and facebook.com/sipandpaintpottery

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Food trucks, and artisans’ edible treats welcome shoppers back to the Talent Evening Market the fourth Friday of every month.

Displaced by 2020’s Almeda fire, the market returned May 28 to the corner of Main and John streets across from Talent City Hall. Sultan’s Delight served eastern Mediterranean specialties, including gyros, spanakopita and baklava. The Mahalo Shaved Ice truck cooled crowds with the Hawaiian snack. Philippe’s Bread is among the prepared food vendors.

The market runs from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Upcoming dates are June 25, July 23 and Aug 27. See talentartisansandgrowers.com

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Inspectors for Jackson County Environmental Public Health in March resumed on-site evaluation of food service facilities offering indoor dining. The following Medford restaurants in April received perfect scores of 100 on their semiannual inspections:

Hiro Sushi, Human Bean (Barnett Road), Jackson Creek Pizza Co. (East Main Street), McDonald’s No. 44 (Biddle Road), Orange Julius, Outsider Coffee, Over Easy, Purple Parrot No. 8 (Highland Drive), Quail Point Golf Course, Shiki, Shoji’s, Siam Cafe Thai Cuisine, Spin-ach, Sweet Satisfaction, Texas Roadhouse, Thai Bistro, Vinny’s Italian Kitchen, Wendy’s Restaurant No. 3042 (South Riverside Avenue).

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.