Restaurants all over town are rolling out special holiday menus, and Cherry Creek’s modern hot spot, Departure Restaurant & Lounge, is no exception: For this month only, culinary director (and celebrity chef) Gregory Gourdet is offering his signature seven-spice Peking duck.
The dish is certainly a splurge at $92, but before you scoff and/or click away, consider this: Not only does one duck feed four people (or three hungry friends with enough leftovers for two lunches, as was the case when I tried it), but it’s a incredible labor of love for Departure’s kitchen crew. The results are extraordinary.
“I wanted to create something grand for my first holiday season at Departure (PDX),” says Gourdet, “and Beijing-style Peking duck was perfect because it’s so celebratory and technique-driven.” He tinkered with his approach a bit, trying different types of ducks—he settled on Peking ducks from Maple Leaf Farms because they cook so evenly—and perfected a four-day process. That involves a full day of curing, three blanches in a water-honey-Shaoxing wine bath, and three days of drying before the duck is roasted and glazed with a combo of tamari, soy sauce, and honey. The duck rests for two hours, then right before serving it’s flash-fried for one minute to re-crisp the exterior. A server presents the duck to diners before whisking it back to the kitchen to carve and plate it with various accompaniments (see below). Finally, the kitchen picks the carcass for the last tasty bits, then stir-fries them with duck fat, liver, and aromatics to make duck fried rice as a satisfying second course.
All of that preparation requires the efforts of five different cooks, from the chef who carves the duck to the fry cook who, well, fries it to the steam cook who warms the Mandarin pancakes that go with it.
Speaking of those pancakes: They are supple and flaky, the ideal vehicle for wrapping around slices of the duck and fixings such as fresh scallion and cucumber, pickled kumquats, and umami-rich hoisin and plum sauces. But my friends and I agreed that we’d have been happy without any of those accompaniments, tasty as they are. That’s how great the Peking duck is, with meat so deeply and deftly seasoned that the crackly skin is an equal player at most.
“Usually chefs just focus on creating that glassy, crispy duck skin,” says Gourdet, “but for us, it’s about the entire bird. We want it to be as flavorful and juicy as possible.” Mission accomplished.
The Peking duck is available at dinner only and in limited quantities until December 30; pre-order your duck at least 24 hours in advance. Reservations recommended.
249 Columbine St., 720-772-5020