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Brunch O’ Clock: Departure

A dim sum cart, sushi, cocktails and more

Wagyu beef fried rice. Pork and kimchi dumplings. Sesame balls. Shiitake buns. On wheels. Denver’s brunch scene has become far more alluring with the launch of Departure Restaurant + Lounge {249 Columbine Street, 720.772.5020}, the Cherry Creek showstopper from Sage Restaurant Group and executive chef Gregory Gourdet, whose captivating Pan-Asian cuisine—an odyssey through China, Japan, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Korea—is turning heads with its playful swagger, complex flavors, sustainability-minded philosophies, and contemporary interpretations of the traditional dishes he explored while journeying through Asia. And his Asian-influenced brunch—which has the potential to become a weekend ritual—is ideal for diners on the prowl for everything from dim sum delivered on wheels to bold bloody Marys.

Photo: Lori Midson

Gourdet, a New York native, finalist on season 12 of Bravo’s Top Chef, and disciple of Jean-Georges Vongerichten, just added the careening cart service this past weekend, supplementing the existing brunch syllabuses—including an all-vegan menu—with a separate sheet stamped with 13 dim sum marvels that parade past tables, all but guaranteeing that diners will ditch their iPhones, if only momentarily, to crowd their table with steamed chicken bao squatting in bamboo steamers, tuna poké elegantly arranged in midnight-blue bowls or pork shumai, blotted with Chinese mustard, and curls of chives, propped on stark white plates.

Photo: Lori Midson

The temptations, all priced between $3-$8, also feature a Dungeness crab, an avocado roll, and fried rice with a yolk-spilling egg draped over a pyramid of wok-fired rice tumbling with Wagyu beef, cilantro, nori, and crisped shallots; Gourdet detonates the rice with a blast of gochujang, a potent Korean chile paste. The chicken wingettes, snipped at their tips, delicately fried and glazed with a sweet chile sauce, will make you weep joyous tears. Still, if there’s one dish that should step forward and take a bow, it’s the bewitching (and unconventional) shiitake bao, the mushroom’s burnished caps wrapped around a ginger-fragrant forest of carrots. They’re exceptional.

Photo: Departure

Brunch, of course, begs for liquid assets, and the cocktail roster at Departure delivers in spades, thanks to Brandon Wise, Departure’s director of beverage operations who created five “day drinking” cocktails to bridge the gap between sunrise and sundown. Along with an intriguing kimchi-infused, fish sauce-splashed bloody Mary, the base of which is shōchū, a Japanese distilled spirit, there’s a punchy mimosa made with orange juice, prosecco, bitters and the juice of tamarind, a tropical fruit that adds richness, body and a delicately sweet and tart flair. 

Photo: Lori Midson

By Lori Midson, Contributor