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Small plates take global spin at Partake Shop & Lounge

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The cheesemonger’s board at Partake Shop & Lounge features cheese from the adjacent retail store, along with preserves, pickles, fruit and chocolate. Photos by Sarah Lemon
The fishmonger’s is one of four “boards” served at Partake Shop & Lounge in Grants Pass. Photos by Sarah Lemon
A lamb gyro is recast as crostini at Partake Shop & Lounge in Grants Pass. Photos by Sarah Lemon
An “Olde Fashioned Date” (foreground) and Amaretto 75 are specialty cocktails served at Partake Shop & Lounge in Grants Pass. Photos by Sarah Lemon.

When an artisan cheese counter meets a wine-tasting room and bottle shop — both supplying a cocktail lounge and small-plates eatery — it’s an invitation to Partake.

That’s the name of one of Grants Pass’ newest and most innovative food and wine establishments. Occupying the Southeast G Street suite that formerly housed VINFARM, Partake doesn’t try to emulate its predecessor’s farm-to-table ethic, nor keep products particularly local. Owners Scott and Patti Hillier instead wanted to take a broader view.

“We’re international, bringing in the best from all over the world, rather than focusing on local products, as we figure folks already have access to some of the world’s best locally,” said cheese shop manager Amelia Caldwell. “Why not introduce them to other things as well?”

Caldwell introduces customers to more than domestic and imported cheeses. Visitors to either Partake’s physical store or its website find resources for pairing with wines and other foods, building cheese platters, storing cheeses for best results and even the history of cheeses and how they’re made.

“We wanted to be a resource for education and exploration in the food world for people, so that everyone — despite their level of experience — would feel welcome and have a great time with us,” said Caldwell.

Her knowledge isn’t just textbook. Caldwell grew up on Oregon’s first off-the-grid goat dairy and farmstead creamery. Cheese and goat lovers throughout the region know Caldwell’s given name forms half of the farm’s: Pholia.

Honing her palate at local cheese shops and further afield in Seattle, Caldwell is part of the team that developed Partake with few existing business models for reference. Executive chef Justin Wolf is a Medford native and alum of Oregon Coast Culinary Institute who worked his way through Larks Home Kitchen Cuisine in Ashland, Elements Tapas, Dinner & Drinks in Medford and Jacksonville’s Schoolhaus Brewhaus. General manager Kehl van Horn learned the restaurant and wine trades in Portland and San Francisco.

Some big-city sensibilities aside, Partake isn’t taking itself too seriously. Playful flamingo and giraffe figurines — even a side-table sculpture of a roller skate — keep the ambiance light and fun amid more sophisticated furnishings and decor. The cocktail list takes a stab at puns while the food menu reinvents popular Vietnamese and Greek dishes as bite-sized hors d’oeuvres.

Cheese and charcuterie boards, of course, are compulsory for this concept and fairly widespread in the region’s food scene. A fishmonger’s board ($25), however, treads into territory that many customers wouldn’t expect — but shouldn’t hesitate to try. In addition to lox, the board’s delicacies of the sea included caviar, fish rillettes and a salt cod cake. Toast points, lemon-dill creme fraiche, candied lemon zest and pickled mustard seeds accented the proteins.

First, came our order of “lamb gyro” crostini ($9), which distilled the pita’s typical contents down to a few strips of roasted meat, slices of red onion and shreds of cabbage atop a tzatziki-sauced oblong of baguette. My partner was slightly taken aback the dish wasn’t, in fact, a gyro, stuffed with meat and oozing sauce. I should have elaborated on the menu headings but didn’t want to call his comprehension into question. I’m sure he’s not the only diner who’s ordered the crostini under the assumption it comes close to a full meal.

For that, we ordered a second board, cheese ($22) being the obvious choice. The server did try to sway us toward the “chef’s board” with a choice of three cured meats and three cheeses, plus preserves, pickles, mustard and bread. But I’d tried the Cyprus Grove soft goat cheese the chef’s featured and figured the all-cheese board’s chocolate accompaniment may also satisfy our dessert craving.

The fishmonger’s board paired more appropriately with our cocktails, my bubbly “Amaretto 75” ($9), in particular, with the caviar. I did wish for a bit more almond-flavored liqueur on the first swig. But the duet of gin and Prosecco let the seafood shine through and played deliciously off the board’s candied lemon zest.

My partner’s “Olde Fashioned Date” ($9) similarly offered more aroma — with its thyme “smoke” — than strong flavors. Its maple-balsamic syrup and date tincture were pleasing counterpoints to the rich lamb atop our crostini. I commented we’d pay several more dollars per drink at many restaurants in Ashland and Medford.

The cheeses hailed from closer to home than I anticipated. All three — “original blue,” “flagship cheddar” and “Sleeping Beauty” — were made in Washington, the server confirmed. I relished the last in that list from Cascadia Creamery, which ages it in ancient lava caves. And the pairing with Peter William Vineyard’s GSM, a red blend from Medford, was just right.

Had we arrived a half-hour earlier when the cheese shop was open, Caldwell could have assembled a platter for us or made some substitutions, said the server. Upon leaving, I noted that it pays to check the specials promoted on a chalkboard outside the lounge entry. Both a seasonal soup and truffle-enhanced mushroom crostini piqued my appetite, although we’d eaten until nearly full.

Located at 111 S.E. G St., Partake’s lounge is open from 4 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, until 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The wine and cheese shops are open from 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

See partakegp.com or call 541-916-5888.

Tempo Tidbits

Cocoa nibs, molé and three decadent desserts headline a five-course special menu at this year’s Oregon Chocolate Festival.

The March 4 Chocolate Maker’s Wine Dinner also pairs a different vintage with each dish. Reservations are available for parties of four to eight, with tickets priced at $80, which includes tax and gratuity.

Scharffen Berger dark chocolate accents ancho bacon jam for the feast’s amuse bouche. Cocoa nib pesto accompanies the appetizer of saffron arancini. A drizzle of balsamic vinegar and bitter chocolate dresses the salad of roasted golden beets, baby carrots and wild mushroom confit. Molé sauces the main course of roasted game hen, and a trio of sweets — flourless torte, espresso pot de creme and chocolate sorbet — conclude the meal at Ashland Springs Hotel.

Purchase tickets for the 6:30 p.m. event at oregonchocolatefestival.com/chocolate-makers-dinner. The festival resumed in-person gatherings this year after 2021’s virtual experiences. See the list of vendors, get updates and buy passes and overnight packages for March 5 and 6 at oregonchocolatefestival.com

Food service operations interested in sourcing more locally grown ingredients can join a conversation with regional stakeholders.

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Rogue Valley Food System Network plans a Jan. 24 “farm to restaurant” listening session from 2 to 3:30 p.m. for restauranteurs, chefs, caterers, bakers and grocers in Grants Pass and Applegate. The discussion will focus on increasing local sourcing and seasonal menu items, as well as supporting growers in the Rogue and Illinois valleys.

Climate City Brewing Co. and the new Steam Distillery will provide light refreshments for the event at Climate City, 509 S.W. G St. RVFSN is a nonprofit organization that heads a collaborative community of leadership to develop and advocate for a healthy and sustainable, local food system. See rvfoodsystem.org

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Private tastings, private parties, meetings and clubs can reserve space at The Rogue Grape in Jacksonville.

The wine bar and bottle shop at Bigham Knoll is closed to the general public until spring, when warmer weather accommodates outdoor seating. In the interim, “guided” tastings are on The Rogue Grape’s event calendar Fridays, starting Jan. 21 with merlot, “the little blackbird.”

The format affords four 2-ounce pours of a specific varietal, accompanied by house-made small bites and engaging, educational presentations beginning at 6 p.m. The cost is $40 per person, and each session is limited to 30 people.

For more information and to reserve, see theroguegrape.com/Events

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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.