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Sunday, October 9, 2016

New to the dining scene—Onyx Restaurant

Carvings

A Convivial Niche

New to the dining scene—Onyx Restaurant

Story by Paula Bandy

Photography by Ezra Marcos

 

"I feel like in the big picture we are trying to reinvent dining here," says Mario Chavez, owner/chef of Onyx Restaurant at the Nunan Estate. Previously sous-chef when the space was The Carriage House, he emphasizes, "We are definitely not The Carriage House." Indeed, other than the namesake and centerpiece of the space—a sleek, internally lighted, 28-foot seating bar of yellow Brazilian onyx that wraps around the open cooking area—the ambience exudes a versatile casualness much different from the previous formal dining 

Once the space was theirs, Chavez, and his wife/co-owner Liz Wimberly, embarked on a research pilgrimage to restaurants in Portland, Las Vegas, and around Southern Oregon. Chavez says their goal was to "see what's really working these days. Where are people really going and where do I—as a foodie at heart—want to eat?

Nestled within the three acres of the beautiful, historic Nunan mansion and estate, Onyx, a refined gastropub, offers its own niche, and also fills a niche in Jacksonville. Chavez says, "We decided to have fun with it. We created a place that is warm and comfortable, not formal, invites chatting and laughing, and offers a lively and vibrant atmosphere. We encourage people to bring their kids here. We have corn-hole for playing and a patio with a view of the estate that is shaded after 4 p.m. People are encouraged to wander the grounds."

Inside plays to the old and the new as well. Up top there's a large saloon-style, well-stocked, ornate, wooden bar. Below are a sofa, slick, dark wood tables, and chairs, as well as three large TVs for sports viewing. "We offer an array of beverages and an adult and kid-friendly menu,” he adds. “We invite locals to come in, enjoy a drink, casual food, and community. There's something for everyone."

In their travels, they also noticed music was a big part of today's ambience. "We want to get away from the sleepy Norah Jones and Diana Krall music that we've heard the past ten years in dining rooms. We noticed how loud the music was, the types of music played, and now I can feel the mood of the dining areas and change out the music as needed from my phone. Music is so much a part of the ambience along with the scents and furnishings." Along with providing different types of music, they offer live music events as well.

Then there’s the food. The menu matches the eclectic ambience. Chavez was born in Colima, Mexico, but his family immigrated to Medford when he was still a baby. He was raised on a small ranch in Medford. “There was a lot of influence growing up to become a chef,” he says. “I started hunting and butchering with my dad at eight years old. I always had my hands in food. My mom made her own goat cheese and made everything from scratch. We all helped, including grinding the corn for tamales."

He learned to cook with classical French cuisine. "But," he says, "for the longest time I wanted to go to Italy and just be an Italian chef." Self-taught, Chavez got his American Culinary Foundation certificate online and has worked at numerous Rogue Valley restaurants for 22 years, including two as a "cheesemonger" at Rogue Creamery.

"I come from different angles with my food style. The menu is my opportunity to showcase my personality and put on the menu what I enjoy. One thing is I love Chinese food and we are aiming to tie in with the Chinese history in Jacksonville. We've teamed up for hosting and cooking demos during the 2017 New Year's celebration,” he says. "But, born in Mexico—full Mexican—is why you will always see sopes and Mexican inspired dishes on the menu."

Interestingly, there are seven dishes that contain eggs––deviled, pickled, boiled, and sunny. Even on this culturally mingled menu they are eye-catching. "I do have a thing with eggs," he says. "I think the egg is the perfect food. I love to eat eggs. Eggs are fascinating. If I was asked what number one thing I'd take to an island, I would say eggs.” Laughing, he continues, "Ideally, a chicken that's laying eggs."

Onyx, along with the wide-ranging menu, has a substantial selection of local and worldly wines hand-picked by Chavez. You may also bring in your own wine, with Wednesday being no-corkage fee day.

"I owe a lot to my wife for getting us here,” he expresses. “We are blessed to be here and plan on staying for a long time."

 

Onyx Restaurant at the Nunan Estate

635 N Oregon St., Jacksonville

541-702-2700

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