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Elements tapas and cocktails offer an indulgent night out

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Prawns are served either saffron-flavored, pictured here, or “diablo” style with chiles at Elements in Medford. Photo by Sarah Lemon.
Deep-fried calamari is one of several seafood selections at Elements in Medford. Photo by Sarah Lemon.
Grapefruit and cucumber update a roasted beet and goat cheese salad at Elements in Medford. Photo by Sarah Lemon.
Matiz Gallego sardines, wrapped in bacon at Medford’s Elements, are imported from Spain. Photo by Sarah Lemon.
Basque-style artichokes are accented with Serrano ham at Elements in Medford. Photo by Sarah Lemon.
Creative cocktails are mixed for pairing with Elements’ Spanish-inspired menu. Photo by Sarah Lemon.

For a girls’ night out, one Medford restaurant has been my go-to.

Elements cemented a reputation almost 15 years ago for creative cocktails, Spanish-style small plates and a chic atmosphere. Even if the concept no longer seems cutting edge, Elements manages to stay current and consistently ranks among my top picks for fun-loving groups — or a single sisterly sidekick.

Tapas are Spain’s drinking food, prepared in small portions meant to be shared. Ordering several dishes is encouraged, and the format promotes lighter eating and sampling a wider variety in one sitting.

The genre, generally speaking, is a little indulgent but doesn’t go overboard, making it attractive fare for girls’ nights out. My sister and I, however, have no self-conscious second thoughts about eating heartily in each other’s company.

Reopening over the spring when indoor dining resumed, Elements took the opportunity to “abbreviate” its menu slightly, says owner Chris Dennett. Hours also were condensed to Wednesday through Sunday, motivating customers to make reservations.

Bar seats just returned, and Dennett plans to restore couch and coffee table seating this week. With only two tables fronting the downtown sidewalk, Elements’ scant outdoor accommodations mainly inform customers it’s reopened after skipping the takeout-only approach that kept some counterparts afloat through the winter, says Dennett.

I still favor the semicircular, high-back booths designed for privacy before social distancing was a concern. And Elements’ late hours afford my sister, who works a night shift, an evening out without adjusting her sleep schedule. Plenty of customers are ready again for late-night revelry, according to Dennett, explaining that Elements has been “really busy” between 9 p.m. and its 11 p.m. closing time.

Spanish food fans still come for Elements’ popular fried potatoes ($11) and paella, priced as high as $46 for the iconic rice dish intended for three to four diners. Flatbreads are another mainstay in four veggie and meaty varieties from $15 to $19.

In the mood for something a bit lighter, I homed in on “Basque style” artichokes ($13) while my sister insisted on a salad. Although we both consider roasted beet salads at risk of being overexposed in restaurants, Elements’ version was the most appealing of three salads on its menu.

Several seafood preparations were in order. Given my sister’s and my mutual love of calamari ($15), Elements’ fried recipe was a must. Hard-pressed to pass up prawns, my sister doesn’t care for overly spiced dishes, making Elements’ garlic saffron shellfish ($18) the obvious choice over prawns “diablo” with Serrano chiles.

And just to ensure a true taste of Spain, we ordered the imported Matiz Gallego sardines ($17), wrapped in bacon and perched atop olive-almond tapenade. Doubting the oily fish’s allure to the average diner, I figured my sister’s love of anchovies and brine-cured olives would stand her in good stead.

And girls’ night out mandates cocktails. A devotee of grapefruit juice, I doubly approved of the “Grey Fly” for its St. Germain elderflower liqueur. The title “Sexy Human” grabbed my sister’s attention, regardless of ingredients.

Priced at $11 each, both drinks were beautifully prepared with liquid levels just touching their rims, thickly coated in sugar. As I expected, my sister loved my drink while hers was a bit spicier — owing to Hot Monkey pepper-flavored vodka — than she anticipated. I thought the combination with passionfruit puree proved Elements can still push the envelope a bit, even as the pandemic discouraged some establishments from experimenting.

On my palate, the spicy-fruity beverage paired perfectly with crispy fried morsels of tender calamari, dusted in paprika and served with a lemon aioli. The taste sensation practically transported me to a beach resort in Spain.

The “Grey Fly” echoed the salad’s grapefruit supremes and cucumber slices, both of which updated roasted beets with goat cheese over arugula ($15). Candied pecans added crunch and value to the chef’s choice of Humboldt Fog chèvre while orange-honey vinaigrette kept the flavors light and the greens crisp.

Impeccably flavored, the six prawns lounged in a sunny, sherry-spiked sauce — subtly but unmistakably steeped in saffron — that begged for mopping up with accompanying bread slices. Similarly presented, the artichoke hearts soaked in a white wine-butter sauce studded with Serrano ham. My sister took a bite of the preserved artichokes before declaring that I could have the rest, and I insisted that she take an extra prawn.

More precisely plated, the sardines layered brine and savor, enriched with aioli, making an assertive impression that could be too much for some diners. This is a dish that wants a glass of tempranillo or albarino from Elements’ extensive list to disperse such distinctive flavors.

Or conclude the meal, as we did, with churros and bittersweet chocolate sauce. The deep-fried pastries dusted in cinnamon sugar were surprisingly light, the sauce just sweet enough to make good on many diners’ notions of a treat. A few friends would have no problem polishing off the portion of six, but we had eaten so well that we reluctantly had to leave a couple of churros behind.

Located at 101 E. Main St., Elements opens at 4 p.m. See elementsmedford.com. Call 541-779-0135.

Tempo Tidbits

Sales of tapas and wine support Rogue Valley Farm to School the second Saturday of each month at Ashland’s Long Walk Vineyard.

The next event is planned from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. July 10 at Long Walk, 1800 N. Valley View Road. The $25 ticket affords a glass of wine and small bite featuring locally sourced, seasonal ingredients. Space is limited and can be reserved at rvfarm2school.org/2nd-saturdays

The Vietnamese confection “che khuc bach” pairs with 2018 Carignane Rose, a Rhone-style wine, at the July 10 benefit. Apricots and candied apricot kernels, herbal honey jelly, elder flowers, raspberries, fresh cream and goat cheese compose the dish. This and other tapas are prepared by Long Walk’s procurement specialist Deanna Waters-Senf or guest chefs.

Special guest Betty LaDuke is one of Oregon’s most internationally recognized artists for more than 60 years. Participants also learn about Rogue Valley Farm to School’s field trips, produce boxes, “farm to cafeteria” and other school partnerships. The second Saturday benefits are scheduled through December.

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Canine companions are the guests of honor at Naumes Suncrest Winery’s July 4 festivities.

In partnership with Yreka Rescue Ranch, the Talent estate is inviting guests for a dog- and family-friendly holiday celebration of food trucks, live music, wine and adoptable dogs. The second annual event, from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday, July 4, is intended for pets that can enjoy the setting, sights, sounds and other dogs.

No reservations are required. The afternoon’s food and music lineup includes Martha’s Food Truck, Stone’s Jamaican Roots & Juice and guitarist and vocalist Jeff Kloetzel.

Naumes Suncrest Winery is at 150 Suncrest Road. Tasting room hours are noon to 6 p.m. Thursday and Sunday, noon to 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday. See naumessuncrestwinery.com. Call 541-608-1755.

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

Chipotle Mexican Grill, Center Drive, Medford; Cicily’s, Medford; Cold Stone, Medford; Domino’s, Crater Lake Avenue, Medford; El Comal, Phoenix; Flamingo’s No. 13, Roberts Road, Medford; Golden Phoenix, Phoenix; Good Bean Coffee Cafe, Medford; Grass Shack Cafe, Phoenix; Hemi & Hogs, Medford; Human Bean, Stewart Avenue, Medford; Jackson Creek Pizza Co., West Main Street, Medford; Jefferson Spirits, Medford; Kaleidoscope to Go, 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.