Parachute Lands in Avondale with Delicious, Modern Korean Food
Parachute’s snacks: house pickles, seaweed gougere, potato-bacon-scallion bread.
Remember how you felt when you were one of the only people who knew how to get to Soul Kitchen on west Chicago Avenue? Or what it was like tasting Bill Kim’s lamb dumplings for the first time at Urban Belly, next to a laundromat in a dingy strip mall on California Ave.? That’s kind of how I felt last night sitting at the convivial kitchen counter at Parachute, the new Avondale restaurant from the husband-wife team of chefs Beverly Kim and Johnny Clark.
After scraping the money together themselves – even running a Kickstarter campaign – the couple have created an exciting neighborhood restaurant the likes of which Chicago hasn’t seen since Fat Rice set the corner of Sacramento and Diversey on fire. As a self-proclaimed Korean food freak, I’m probably a little biased, but it’s hard not to gush when a trio of pickles arrives containing a triumvirate of crispy-crunchy vegetables, including homemade napa kimchi, sliced celery studded with sichuan peanuts and a thoroughly addictive jar of dehydrated watermelon radishes that have been rehydrated with their pickling liquid.
I only tasted Kim’s food at The Fairmont on one occasion, finding it a little forced, as if she was trying to create something for food writers that somehow managed to fall well outside of her corporate benefactors’ comfort zone. I never had a chance to taste her and Clark’s short-lived effort at Bonsoiree, so going into my dinner, I had very little pre-game experience with their style of cooking. You can’t help but love the DIY aesthetic, from the decorative stereo speakers hung flush against the wall, to the wooden bookshelves behind the bar, holding up a Marantz receiver, a dusty turntable and a few dozen LPs, plus a dozen or so cookbooks ranging from “The Book of Kimchi” to tomes by Noma, Jean-Georges and Michel Bras.
A baked potato bing bread is your first clue this isn’t going to be an ordinary dinner. The sesame loaf is embedded with bits of potato, but also laced with scallions and streaks of bacon; on the side of the plate, a swoosh of sour cream butter as rich and dreamy as a Winklevoss twin. Tiny gougeres, smaller than golfballs, fill an earthenware dish, dusted in seaweed and parmesan for an umami blast in two bites apiece; meanwhile, a small plate of Hawaiian kampachi is dressed with thin, tart green mango wedges and fennel fronds, along with some haphazardly scattered nubbins of charred sesame seeds, looking like an appetizer at Blackbird, but thanks to the neighborhood, clocking in at just $11:
My favorite dish – no surprise here – was the dolsot (stone bowl) bibimbop. This ubiquitous Korean staple gets a Kim makeover, in the form of what it lacks. There are no carrots, spinach, thinly griddled beef or fiery gojujang chili paste, but rather, deeply tender chunks of slow-cooked short ribs, bright, acidic pickled ramps and a few leaves of savoy kale. Instead of a standard chicken egg, they opt for a richer, saffron-colored duck egg, and instead of that gojujang, a dressing made from foie gras adds a subtle (but not overpowering) note or two of richness. I waited a few minutes before I mixed everything up, allowing the bottom of the scorching stone bowl to crisp-up the rice that it was in contact with, much like the elusive soccarat rarely found in Chicago’s woeful paella class. Incidentally, in addition to a fine beer, wine and cocktail program, they are one of the few places in town selling makgeolli – the infamous cloudy Korean rice wine – produced locally at Slow City Brewery in Niles. It goes extremely well with the snack section of the menu (especially the crispy sesame leaves) and some of the smaller plates. I’ve only seen this brew at Gogi in West Rogers Park, my current Korean BBQ obsession.
Was everything great? Of course not, it’s Week #4. The boudin noir with peanuts and spearmint was almost an insult to the other well-composed small plates, tasting like fermented leather with the texture of marshmallow; an extremely bitter blanket of endive didn’t help matters. I tried two desserts – both unremarkable – a savory sheep’s milk cheesecake with bitter Klug strawberries that looked pretty, but were in need of some sweet maceration, plus a “shaved” ice with red beans and ice cream that almost broke the enamel on my teeth between the crispy barley and rocky shards of ice. But there were so many other dishes I had wanted to try – a vegetarian mandu (dumpling) with lebneh yogurt; a hand-torn noodle dish with spicy lamb sofrito and cumin. Clearly, I’ve got a lot of eating ahead of me, but it’s nice to see a neighborhood restaurant stick to its guns, put its balls on the line, and say to hell with the burgers, tacos, fried chicken and beets-and-goat cheese routine, and do something original for a change.
3500 N. Elston Ave.