Departure: Home to sushi, steak cooked on a rock, and hot girls rocking purple dresses.
While having a beautiful view of Portland, I’ve never been drawn there for dining reasons, other than a short-lived Exquisite Dinner attempt with Jess, a year before Vida Vegan Con. (Long story short: the then-chef wasn’t interested in featuring vegan menu items, and the idea was nixed almost from the get-go.)
That all changed when Gregory (follow him, he’s amazing!) took over the reigns as Chef and recently decided to throw a fancy-schmancy vegan dinner with Wes Hannah of Blossoming Lotus (and Vegan Iron Chef contestant, year one)and Lisa Clark of Petunia’s.
At $50 a head, this dinner wasn’t cheap. But I can say, having just come from there, it was better than any vegan dining experience I’ve ever had out. It was amazing. The food was superb, the service was on point, and the view was beautiful.
The company wasn’t bad, either.
(me and Grant Butler)
The menu looked exquisite.
And at my table was the super duper awesome Alison Jones from Portland Monthly Magazine and Twitter, Alison’s gorgeous fiancé; my good friend Shelley who works at Departure; Grant Butler; and another couple who seemed to know everybody and were beautiful and well-spoken and the epitome of perfect dinner company. I only wished I got to talk with them more.
We started with a salted chickpea bread and peanut sauce.
The chickpea bread was crunchy and salty. When dipped in the creamy and sweet peanut sauce, it was an amazing way to start a meal.
Mmmm Peanut Sauce.
Shelley and I enjoyed a bottle (okay, two) of white wine throughout the coursed meal.
The wine, imported by Kermit Lynch (who coincidentally make one my favorite sparkling non-sparkling white wines) was dry and a bit smoky and absolutely a perfect accompaniment to our dinner.
Vegan Charcuterie Board
A selection of Asian Inspired Vegetable Terrines, Nut Cheeses, Savory Pate and Live Seed Crackers with Early Autumn Pickles
From left: raw seed crackers, cauliflower pickles, broccoli terrine, hazelnut cheese, tempeh spread, and carrot pate.
Holy Heck. Do you see this? The broccoli (or ‘blockoli’; get it? It is a block of broccoli) was amazing. It was like a condensed cube of broccoli, with the flavors jamming out into perfect cruciferous flavor. Loved it. The hazelnut cheese was amazing, and when combined on a cracker with the other samplings, delicious. There was a lot there for a course, and I could only eat about half. The tempeh spread; same. Rich and savory with a hint of depth, it was great on a cracker and I could eat this all day long as a spread. The carrot portion was beautiful. It reminded me of a couch from the ‘70’s, and while phenomenal with presentation, was more beautiful than delicious. It was tasty, for sure, and would score major points at a restaurant not doing other amazing things, but tonight it was more aesthetically pleasing than palette pleasing. This says more about the overall quality of all the food than it does about this dish though; seriously,this meal knocked my wool-free vegan socks off.
Roasted Kabocha Squash Soup with Sunflower Seed Cream, Sunchokes, Asian Pear, Crispy Ginger and Spicy Oil.
This soup was amazing. It was sweet and savory and with the crunchy sunchokes and sweet asian pear, this course blew me away. The full-flavored sunflower seed cream and the spiciness of the oil, mixed with the cilantro (a flavor I LOVE), was the perfect balance of flavors. I could have eaten twice this amount and declared this the best autumn soup I’ve ever eaten in my entire life.
End of Summer, Fall Begins, 3 Ways:
Tempura Figs, Roasted Grapes, Candied Walnuts, Spicy Greens, Ginger Vinaigrette
Sweet Corn Custard, Grilled Romano Beans, Local Sea Greens, Pickled Shallot-Sesame Dressing
Maple-Soy Glaze Grilled Tempeh, Smoked Heirloom Tomato-Peach Marmalade, Tomato Crisps
(From left: tempeh, corn custard and tempura figs)
Did you just read that? Didn’t you want to eat it all right away?
I don’t like figs, and despite Allison and Shelley’s enthusiasm for the little weird things, I wasn’t excited.
I should have been though.
Apparently when you deep fry something, even figs, they turn out delicious.
The grapes, candied walnuts, and ginger-dressed greens complimented the tempura figs perfectly. I ate the whole thing. It was tangy, sweet, chewy and all-over a fantastic fall dish.
If you cook tempeh in maple-soy glaze and use tomato crisps as a garnish, you absolutely cannot go wrong. I’ll leave it at that.
The corn custard—oh, the corn custard. Though I assume it was supposed to come out a touch warmer than it did, this was still my favorite dish of the meal. The saltiness and tanginess of the sea greens and romano beans offset the sweetness of the custard in the most supreme way I could ever even begin to imagine. Beautifully done, exquisitely prepared, I’m in love with this dish.
Fourth Course: Roasted Early Autumn Mushrooms with Wild Ginger, Spruce, Sake-White Soy Glaze, Crispy Hempseed Cake, Pumpkin Seed Condiment
Okay, who says vegans don’t eat amazing food?! Oh my gosh. The meatiness and earthiness of the mushrooms mixed with the nuttiness and creaminess of the hempseed cake and the spicy savory taste of the ginger and pumpkin seed condiment blew me away, for the fifth time tonight. I ate almost all of this dish (couldn’t finish the hempseed cake), then dipped into Shelley’s for another bite. As Grant said, the hempseed cake would be spectacular as a crouton, with the crispiness of the cube taking center stage. Yum.
By this time in the evening, I was full and a little tipsy, but super-duper excited about the dessert. I could live off desserts if my dentist and doctor didn’t know what they were talking about.
Fifth Course: Coconut Crusted Pistachio Tart and Coconut Cardamom Ice Cream with Candied Plums and Crystalized Ginger (Bonus: Pomegranate Soda)
I think I was the only one at the table to finish this one. I can always finish dessert. The ice cream, while too cardamom-y for some folks at my table, was just right for me. I love foods where the herbs and flavorings come out swinging, and this ice cream was perfect. The coconut cake with pistachio on top was sweet and caramelized and ooey-gooey and when enjoyed with a bite of spicy and creamy ice cream—absolutely perfect. The soda was just perfect and a nice little cap to the dinner.
We were all so full by the end. Gregory, Wes and Lisa came out at the end to say hello, and we each received this cute little take-home pumpkin chocolate cupcake as a surprise ending to the dinner.
I haven’t eaten mine yet, but look how sparkly and cute this little thing is. Adorable.
Dinner at Departure cost 50 bucks, not including beverages or gratuity. Expensive? You betcha. Would I go again? In a heartbeat.
The food was immaculate—simple, colorful, gorgeous and innovative. The view is spectacular, the service impeccable, and the atmosphere lovely. I heard a rumor that Departure will start featuring a vegan menu in the next few weeks, and you can bet your booty that I will be back to partake. If you didn’t get a chance to come, you should come check it out. It’s worth the price and the journey up to the 15th floor.