When one visits the Departure Restaurant in the “Nines” Hotel in downtown Portland, one might consider “dressing to the nines” – not to impress your date, spouse, or colleague, but because you’re going to want to develop a relationship with Executive Chef Gregory Gourdet’s amazing creations. Relationship? Hell, you’re going to want to go steady with this food, maybe marry it, have babies with it. It’s that good.
In a city chock-a-block full of interesting and quality restaurants, Departure stands head and shoulders (and 15 stories) above the pack. With a modern Pan Asian menu, Gourdet was quoted in Nation’s Restaurant Food Magazine as saying ““People just want to be wowed. They know a lot more about food these days, so they expect more creativity from chefs and that translates to flavors as well.”
And does he ever hit the mark, over and over again with his carefully honed menu.
The occasion of our outing was to celebrate Mrs. Burgerdogboy’s birthday, and I wanted to pick a place that was “above nice” (she deserves the best), but also that served some of her favorite tastes. I suspected Departure would please on both counts, and when I heard Gourdet was offering a traditional Peking duck this month, I knew the evening had the potential for being close to her idea of heaven.
Gourdet, the food, service, the room, ambiance, view, all contributed to a perfect evening, but the food was the real star.
I had preselected our menu choices, with the duck being the centerpiece of the meal. Departure’s plates are meant for sharing, so I ordered fairly deep on the menu, including edamame and panko-encrusted Kobe meatballs for starters.
Even something has simple as the soybeans were special, with a rich buttery flavor, a hint of salt. The meatballs incorporated fois gras, and were served with tonkatsu sauce, which is generally made with pureed apples and Japanese Worcestershire.
We moved on to the crispy pork belly, served with pickled cherries, ginger, and pumpkin seeds. The belly was prepared perfectly, crispy exterior, flavorful bites of sus scrofa domesticus (pig).
Roughly-diced brussels sprouts, sauteed with chili, lime and mint came next. As simple a vegetable as brussels sprouts are, they can be difficult to prepare well, and once again, Gourdet has found the solution creating a very tender, packed with flavor offering.
The show piece duck takes 35 minutes to “fire” (after two days of intense prep), and was presented whole to the table by the waitstaff prior to being returned to the kitchen for the final presentation. In Beijing, there is a particular procedure to presenting and serving whole duck, and it’s generally offered as a three course experience, starting first with the crispy skin, dipped in a sugar/garlic sauce; followed by the meat, served with steamed pancakes, spring onions, cucumbers, and plum and/or hoison sauce. One wraps the duck, onions, cuke spears and a dab of sauce in the pancakes, folds or rolls it, and eats it much as if it was a Chinese “street taco.”
The final plate in Beijing would be for the chef to take the remaining fat, meat, and bones, and make it into a broth, or perhaps a stir-fry.
Gourdet follows the game plan, adding his own twists. The pancakes, in their own right, were thicker and smaller than you would find in China, and more akin to a taco one would find from a street vendor in Tijuana. Even on their own, they were delicious, but add the duck, vegetables and sauce, and you will find few, if any, better restaurant meals in Portland.
Chef has avoided offending American palate “sensibilites” by using meat, instead of fat and bones, for his accompanying fried rice dish. Again, this dish could stand on its own as an entree.
The duck is a very LTO (limited time offer) and you should order a day ahead of time to assure a bird will be available for you. It is intended to be shared by four persons, but the two of us did serious damage on it, and had enough to bring home for another couple of meals.
Gourdet stopped by the table to wish Mrs. Burgerdogboy a “bon anniversaire” and to inquire how we liked the meal.
Well, Chef, hopefully we sung your praises loud enough at the table, but if not, perhaps this review states it emphatically.
You are a rising star on the
Portland national food scene. You deserve any and all accolades and recognition that will come your way in what is sure to be an outstanding career.
Thanks to you, and the staff at Departure for one of the best nights out in Portland we have experienced.
Departure’s menu is online.