I began the evening looking for appetizers and found myself with bags packed embarking on a tour through the cuisines of Asia with my server at Departure Cherry Creek. The double-wide glass doors guide you through a gateway entrance of what appears to be an airport terminal. The aviation themed restaurant welcomes customers with a beautifully lit bar lined in white leather bar stools. The establishment offers “window” seating showcasing eats and skills at the sushi and kushiyaki bars. The smell of smoking charcoal and caramelization wafting from the kushiyaki corner made it hard to pass up (kushiyaki is a Japanese method of cooking meats and vegetables on a skewer). The music bumped a low bass at a high decibel while cooks in action entertain guests, flipping smouldering meats and glazing beautiful bites made to order.
The Tao of Tanuki ($12.00) arrived as I was still combing through the menu. This drink is made with Shochu, a Japanese rice spirit that resembles an extra dry filtered saki. Umami is a unique savory quality that this rice-vodka contributes to this cocktail. The Shochu is shaken over ice with lime juice and basil soda, then garnished with a thick rim of watermelon chili salt. The aromatics of the basil carry through the carbonated soda and fuse a distinct flavor when met with the drinks sweet and spicy salted edge. Not only does the drink appeal to the vast majority of the flavor wheel but it certainly looks the part too. It is flamboyantly garnished with a sparkling ruby red salted rim and a razor blade of fresh basil.
I soon found myself in front of a vibrant orange plate of Departure Wings ($15.00). Ordered on recommendation, the bone-in set of five wings was served fried to perfection and tossed in a house made sweet chili glaze. This Asian-American fusion let the sweet and savory sing to the palate, but don’t let the spicy aspect deter you from ordering this plate, the sweet chili glaze is much more sweet than it is chili. Crispy crackling of fried batter gives way to a moist, fall off the bone poultry. Bite after bite this fried dish juggles an amusing combination of sweet and savory. Feel free to discarded the chopsticks that come folded into your napkin, you won’t need them, this is finger food at its finest.
Next stop on our tour through Asia was the Steamed Short Rib Buns ($11.00) with a Korean miso sauce that compliment the buns umami savoriness. Kimchi plays its part by adding a fermented acid tone that cuts through the sweet sauce causing a salivation fit for finger licking. There is wonderful attention to texture in this dish. The sticky dough is cooked by water pressure and infused with moisture — leaving the bun soft and the short rib tender. The kimchi crunch is pronounced and plays an important part by contrasting itself against the sweet sauce.
Big Eye Tuna Poke ($18.00) had me grinning before I had even taken a bite. What arrived at the table resembled a pyramid stack of blue corn tortilla chips delicately leaning against one another like walls from a house made of playing cards. Take a second look and realize that the presentation is interactive.
Open the “pyramid” with your fingers and watch it bloom a bright red, green, and yellow pile of raw fish. What had appeared to be corn tortilla chips were in fact “sesame crisps” which complement the tropical heritage of this Hawaiian dish — the quality of this catch is unquestionable. The fish was tender and paired perfectly with the cubed chunks of ripe avocado. The dish comes salted conservatively with a yuzu sauce and enhanced by heat from red hot, seed in chili peppers.
We have only touched the surface of this restaurants menu, but in saying that I feel somewhat accomplished and fully satiated.
Departure Cherry Creek 249 Columbine St.; Open Monday through Thursday 11:00 a.m.–10:00 p.m.
All photography by Lucy Beaugard.