Best Restaurants 2017: Sweet Deal

Eat Dessert for Dinner at Departure

Gregory Gourdet’s pan-Asian sweet treats are what you didn’t know you were waiting for.

By Kelly Clarke October 12, 2017 Published in the November 2017 issue of Portland Monthly

1117 best restaurants departure mqtthe

Best known for his pan-Asian fare at sky-high Departure, chef Gregory Gourdet’s real superpower is dessert. Fiery Thai chiles, taro root, koji rice mold ice cream—all feature in the Top Chef alum’s unconventional sweets arsenal, deployed in tableaux that look like MOMA exhibits but taste like sticky grandma kisses. His 2017 lineup encapsulates his best: intense seasonality, savory shocks, and peekaboo textures.

Coconut ash* pudding with coffee ice cream, whiskey caramel, and coconut ice (top)

Gourdet's sundae anchored by a savory-sweet ooze of burnt coconut husks, rice flour, and coconut sugar, crowned with fluffy coconut snowfall—rife with boulders of ash brownies, puffed rice, and toasted coconut. Think DQ Mud Pie Blizzard meets highbrow travel discovery.

Frozen strawberry mousse with pickled rhubarb and Thai basil (right)

Glitzy Buckminster Fuller domes of juicy, feather-light frozen (then brûléed) strawberry mousse. A salad of rhubarb and berries, dried then marinated in Pok Pok drinking vinegar, basil, and “strawberry leather and dust.” Flavor-bomb central.

Caramel apple clafoutis and green apple sorbet with Thai basil and buckwheat crumble (left)

“A dessert should evolve as you eat the dish,” says Gourdet. Case in point: Swiss-Army-knife apple usage disguised as a humble cake à la mode: studded with caramelized apple bits, crispy fruit leather, pickled chunks, and sour-bright sorbet made with skin-on green apples. Apple pie—you are dead to me.

Warm coconut milk soup with banana, peanut, rice dumplings, and butternut squash (bottom)

It looks like a prop from the Flintstones breakfast table. But the surprisingly homey dish—brimming with chewy dumplings, silky banana custard, sweet gourd, and pops of chile-ginger peanut curd—is inspired by Chiang Mai desserts. Tropical pandan perfumes the sweet-salty broth, while pea flowers lend whimsical pops of periwinkle.

* Gourdet also tapped the trendy ash for his “Goth Cone” ice cream and dense chocolate cake.

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