Review of Departure in Downtown Portland, Oregon

When you take the elevator in the Nines Hotel and walk through the glassed-hall on the way to Departure, restaurant of Top Chef runner-up Gregory Gourdet, you feel like you going to get on a roller coaster ride or getting ready to get on a plane, which is undoubtedly the restaurant’s intention.

My girlfriend Thyme, my friend, a chef named Dave, his friend Brigitte, and I show up early for our reservation, and have a drink on their rooftop bar. A great view and tasty drinks put us in a good mood, with lighter heads and empty stomachs. When our table is ready, the hostess even comes out to the bar to tell us.

We get seated at a nice table in the back. The decor is hyper-modern with yellow lights that continue the theme of being taken on some futuristic Asian-fusion ride. With the bar in the middle of the restaurant, the atmosphere is drunk. While the staff is nice enough, I don’t feel the welcoming vibe I should get from a restaurant this expensive and well-reviewed.

We order more drinks, and peruse the menu. Ordering a slew of dishes, we go for the kampachi shashimi, the smoked salmon roll, the steamed short rib buns, the tiger prawns, the pork belly & kimchi fried rice, the seafood curry broth, and lemongrass beef noodles.

I love the noodles, they are fresh, spicy, and high quality. They’re covered in mint, but Dave doesn’t seem to enjoy that. We all love the sushi, the steamed short rib buns are perfect and moist, and tiger prawns are flavorful and huge. We all agree that the seafood curry has way too much lemongrass. It ruins the dish, I can’t taste curry at all. The curry is super disappointing because Chef Gourdet made countless curries that look delicious during his tenure at Top Chef and we expecting some awesome curry. The fried rice is a little bland, but fine.

I like most of the food, but what is more disappointing is the lack of interest in how we are doing. The staff seems to be more interested in taking care of the business-people who dominate the clientel than young people, they don’t know we came for more food and service than just about everybody here. Dave is a chef, and I am a food-and-drink snob.

Service is underwhelming, but the vast spread we ordered wasn’t as expensive as I thought it would be. On the way out, we go to the bathroom. There are no paper towels, and dirty plates sit unattended at the wait-staff’s computers.

Overall, the experience at Departure is enjoyable, the food was good but not amazing, and the service was sub-par. I would go back again, but I would be more strategic about it. Perhaps I would order the tasting menu.

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