First Look: Departure Has (Almost) Arrived
The gist: At first blush, Peter Karpinski and Gregory Gourdet seem like a bit of an odd couple — one's the high-powered co-founder of Sage Restaurant Group, the other the wide-eyed wunderkind of Top Chef fame. But together they’ve made a smash success in Portland, OR, with their ultra-glam Pan-Asian destination Departure Restaurant + Lounge. As of next week, when their Cherry Creek outpost opens, they're sure to do the same thing here.
The food: From China to Indonesia, from dim sum to tom yum, culinary director Gourdet (assisted by chef Khamla Vongsakoun) serves as a consummate guide to the cuisines of Asia. But something funny happens along the way. It’s not quite fusion; the inaugural menu shows very little obvious Western influence. Yet somehow, even the most traditional dish seems to glow with Gourdet’s own mojo. We like to think the answer lies in the story he tells of visiting a Korean miso farm with Karpinski: “It was the first day of harvest; a shaman was there, and we got to be part of the blessings.” Maybe that magic man cast a spell on him too.
The drink: "We want to do right by the exquisite technique of Japanese bartenders,” says corporate director of beverage operations Brandon Wise about the focus of his program. He was also “inspired by Japanese color theory,” as evident in a glance at the rainbow of ingredients he uses — seafoam, coral and lilac. Beyond the cocktails await a “nice mix of esoteric and familiar” wines by the glass and a list of premium sakes that Wise annotates “to tell their stories”; there’s an extensive bottle list as well.
The space: “The Portland theme is more a seagoing voyage through Asia; here it’s more about air travel,” says Karpinski. Sure enough, the dramatic view from the front door brings to mind some soaring, bustling international airport terminal, centered on a gleaming, streamlined island bar. In back, a sushi counter and binchotan counter (which turns out charcoal-grilled kushiyaki) flank the open kitchen; on either side, murals suggesting aerial cityscapes line the dining rooms. And wait’ll you see Departure Elevated, the panoramic rooftop bar opening at a later date with dim-sum cart service. For more info, take a peek at our photo gallery below.
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