Entering the Atomic-age inspired dining room of Departure, one of Portland’s newest food and cocktail hot spots, one immediately feels transported. With its luxe interior and sweeping roof top views of the city, Departure seems poised to become the destination for an elegant night out.
Last week, Departure, located on the 15th floor of The Nines Hotel, rolled out a new late night menu that couples the restaurant’s best sellers with brand new plates. The Pan-Asian inspired nibbles offer bite-sized packages of clean and complementary flavors.
Departure’s Dim Sum offers a variety of freshly fried pocket-sized goodness. Shrimp Har Gau features the sweet crunch of Hawaiiain king prawn, salty pork, crisp scallions, sesame oil, and soy sauce coated in lightly fried Panko. It packs a spicy, crunchy, sweet wallop in little more than a mouthful. The Waygu brisket is a smoky and tangy morsel of tender beef that virtually melts in one tantalizing bite. The vegetable tempura was crisp and light, with a burst of hot, clean oil, showcasing head chef Jeremy Frice’s culinary prowess.
Unfortunately, the clean, fresh taste of the Asian-inspired dishes was not found in the chef recommended Kobe beef meatballs with foie gras. What sounded like a dream to me turned out to be more of a heavy mess. Neither of the beautiful main ingredients stood out; rather, the whole thing tasted bland, too rich, and greasy, making the two-bite meatball tough to finish. Another miss was the fried tofu. Its salty exterior belied a tasteless, watery inside that truly made for a boring and uninspired dish.
Where the menu really shines is with its sushi, nigiri and wok-fired dishes. The miso black cod features a buttery, smoky exterior that is a beautiful contrast with the salty and crispy skin. So good, my eyes involuntarily rolled in my head a little.The maguro karai honey roll offers a hefty bite of crimson maguro dancing with a spicy, honeyed sauce. The dark, fatty meat of chicken oysters was highlighted with peanuts, negi and chili oil offering crunchy bursts of comforting spice that would make even a serious dieter willing to cheat.
Imbibing at Departure also offers a savory experience. Departure takes obvious pride in its bar, and strives to elevate cocktailing to an art form. For one, I believe it houses the best sake in Portland, which is further enhanced by the extensive knowledge of the beverage by the staff, who freely offers recommendations. Momokawa Pearl is a crisp palate cleansing sake that complements spicy bites perfectly. I liked it best paired with the pickled kimchi because of the playful contrast between vinegary spice and dry fruit. For those who find sake too acidic or pucker-inducing, the Ichishima Silk Deluxe is an immediate kick of apple sparkle without the heavy carbonation of champagne.
Sweet drink lovers should try the My Shy Geisha cocktail which mixes G joy sake, Croft pink port, grapefruit juice and orange bitters. Those who prefer a tarter or spicier drink, rest assured you’re taken care of too; Departure harnesses the gingery power of Cock and Bull ginger ale in no fewer than three delicious cocktails.
Prices for the bites and drinks will run about $25 a piece. My tip for the wallet-conscious: eat a mid-sized dinner before heading to Departure’s late night happy hour to save a bit on some of their best dishes.
Photos courtesy of Departure.
The reviewer sampled the late night menu at a recent media event hosted by Departure.