Brunch of the Week: Departure Dazzles With Asian Flavors

You can learn how to make these shumai dumplings at Departure.EXPAND
You can learn how to make these shumai dumplings at Departure.
Bridget Wood
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Your expectations will be high as you enter the sleek and polished Departure at the base of Cherry Creek's Halcyon Hotel — but brunch at this pan-Asian eatery will exceed those expectations. 

If there's a seat at the futuristic bar, with its curved white bar top and padded stools, grab one; the glowing white surface proves irresistible for Instagrammers looking to showcase Departure's colorful and elegant cocktails. Otherwise, comfortable booths flanking the bar are worthy of a long and relaxing brunch, or grab a table looking out onto the shops and shoppers of the ritzy neighborhood.

Korean fried chicken for brunch at Departure.EXPAND
Korean fried chicken for brunch at Departure.
Bridget Wood

Asian-fusion brunch sounds implausible in a city that lends its name to the Denver omelet (one of the least interesting breakfast dishes ever invented), but Departure proves up to the challenge. Every menu item offers some twist to make traditional brunch selections unique — even the pancakes. The coconut pancakes are gluten-free and dairy-free, instead made with coconut milk and tapioca flour. A generous drizzle of coconut caramel sauce and a shower of toasted coconut up the tropical flavor, and seasonal house-made jam  — this month was blackberry — gives the dish a homey touch.

Departure's coconut pancakes contain no gluten or dairy.EXPAND
Departure's coconut pancakes contain no gluten or dairy.
Bridget Wood

Moving into less-traditional territory, the Korean fried chicken (call it KFC) comprises three boneless pieces of leg or breast that have been cooked at low temperature, resulting in juicy meat, but with a coating that's not as crispy as you might expect, owing in part to a ginger-soy glaze that adds sweetness and a subtle kick of heat. Also enticing was the short-rib bun, with tender but not fatty beef and a spicy slaw that balanced the richness of the Asian-inspired sandwich.

Sous chef Dave Ornsby suggested the shrimp shumai, which are impressive in their construction, a labor-intensive process that results in paper-thin wrappers enveloping little pouches of a shrimp-and-egg mixture. Ornsby adds that Departure hosts shumai demos, so you can book a private party where you and your friends can learn how to make the Chinese dim sum bundles.

A beautiful strawberry mousse brunch dessert.EXPAND
A beautiful strawberry mousse brunch dessert.
Bridget Wood
Brunch cockails at Departure.EXPAND
Brunch cockails at Departure.
Bridget Wood

Departure also creates desserts specific to brunch, including a strawberry mousse that brunch manager Shane Atkins says is just too pretty to pass up. And he was right: a hemisphere of pink mousse, set off by a black plate, is surrounded by lemongrass shaved ice and strawberries in various forms — dried, fresh and in ribbons of jelly. To top it off, gold leaf shimmers on its perch at the peak of the mousse dome.

Drinks are expertly crafted at Departure, including the Bollywood Daiquiri, actually a mocktail from the bar's "no proof" menu. It's frothy and sweet, and you can add rum to make it an adult beverage, which thins out the texture but adds a taste of the islands. Even standard brunch drinks get a thoughtful twist; mimosas are made with tamarind, and Bloody Marys are bolstered by a house mix that that includes wasabi.

Anyone with dietary restrictions will immediately fall in love with Departure, since menus are printed specifically for vegan and gluten-free brunchers.

Departure is located at 249 Columbine Street and serves brunch from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Call 720-772-5020 or visit the restaurant's website for details and reservations.

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