As much as Denver has a love for all things local, we do see chains and out-of-state restaurants pop up around town. Departure is a popular Portland-based restaurant that opens on August 9. However, Departure isn’t a chain, nor is it a carbon copy of the original. The Portland darling brings us its pan-Asian cuisine with a bar program unique to Denver, all in a sexy and stylish room with an aviation-forward design.
The bar is center stage when you walk through the all-glass double doors of Departure, with lounge seating in white booths on either side. More intimate dining is found in the two dining rooms separated by dark wood dividers. The open kitchen allows guests to sit at either the six-seat sushi counter or the four-seat kushiyaki grill for a firsthand experience of how your food is being prepared.
The man behind the burners at Departure is culinary director and executive chef Gregory Gourdet, whose culinary pedigree includes working up the ladder through the kitchens of chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s restaurants in New York. Gourdet stays true to Asian cuisine and techniques with inspired and thoughtful touches that elevate his food. Annual trips to Asia to study the traditional cuisine adds integrity and authenticity to each dish. Menus touch on Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Thai and Vietnamese dishes, spanning from sushi and kushiyaki to tom yum talay and bibimbap. “We want to spark a sense of community,” said Gourdet. “Something where everyone at the table can try each dish.”
Dishes at Departure are healthy and clean, using very few animal fats, sustainable seafood and plenty of veggies across the menu. The kampachi sashimi ($18) is served on individual strips of crispy taro with black garlic and white ponzu. The fresh bite of fish is spiked with a balancing tang from the ponzu and salt off the taro chip.
On the heartier end of the menu’s spectrum, Vietnamese duck curry ($29) is a rich and brothy bowl of fall-off-the bone duck leg and tender breast balanced by a side of house-made pickles and chilis with a warm baguette for dipping. Though Gourdet wants to inspire communal dining with dishes like this, you’ll find yourself hard-pressed to share more than a spoonful when it hits the table.
Dessert can often be an afterthought at many Denver restaurants, but not at Departure. A Southeast Asia-inspired coconut ice with guava mousse ($10) is a palate-soothing finisher to what can be a rich meal. Made with coconut milk and coconut water, it’s finished with fresh lime, strips of mango (chef’s favorite), jackfruit and pandan syrup for a refreshing endnote.
The bar program at Departure is led by Brandon Wise, director of beverage operations, and takes on cocktails in a completely different menu than the fast-paced Portland location. Fourteen different drinks hit on enjoyable notes for any palate. “We’re here for the guest,” said Wise. “So we want to make drinks that are approachable for everyone.” Cocktails are inspired by the cuisine with Asian cultural (and pop cultural) references in their names. The Art of Shadow Boxing ($13) is a spirit-forward reposado cocktail with sherry, Ancho Reyes and apricot liqueur. Its boozy reposado base is smoothed with its counterparts—a perfect pre-dinner sipper.
Aside from the cocktails, you’ll find beer, wine, sake and mocktails crafted with creativity. Departure plans lunch service—unique to the Denver location—dim sum-style brunch, as well as its forthcoming rooftop bar boasting 360-degree views of the city.
Departure is an experience more than just a restaurant. The attention to detail in everything from the subtle aviatic references in its decor down to carefully measured salt in each dish ensures consistency on every visit. While it may be the new kid on the block with plenty to flaunt, Departure embodies charm and grace in its food, hospitality and design.
Departure is located at 249 Columbine Street, Denver, Colorado. 720-772-5020.
Monday – Thursday 11 a.m.- 3 p.m. and 5 – 10 p.m.; Friday 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5 – 11 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m.- 2 p.m. and 5 – 11 p.m.; and Sunday 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. and 5 – 10 p.m. Make a reservation by going here.
All photography by Charles Hildreth.