Parachute (3500 N Elston), the Korean-American restaurant by Beverly Kim and John Clark, recently opened along a lonely stretch of Elston. Like other neighborhood spots, the restaurant doesn’t take reservations, so my date and I went super early to get a prime seat.
The first question the hostess asked was if it was our first visit to the restaurant. Apparently in just a few short weeks, the spot already has repeat customers. Promising, right? I said we hadn’t been and asked to be seated near a window partially covered with drapes made from parachute material. My back was against a wall so I didn’t initially notice that it was covered with old woofer cabinets. I was more concerned with having a view of the open bar and dining room. This would become important later.
The menu was a maze of unfamiliar and unusual ingredients, so we enlisted the help of our server in deciphering dishes and ordering the right amounts. For two people, she recommended a dish from each section of the menu (snacks, smalls, noodles and rice, large plates), and promised to rein us in if it was too much.
We started with a half-order of the Bing Bread — a sweet baked potato dough topped with bacon bits and scallions, and served with a mountain of sour cream butter on the side. After a couple of bites, I understood why Parachute had a following: they come back to get their fix of dough. It’s made fresh every day, and both waitresses confessed that they eat it for breakfast and dinner. It’s no mystery why. We placed a to-go order so we could have it for breakfast, too.
From the snack section, we ordered the crispy sesame leaves. The flash-fried leaves had a lovely translucent green color and were stiff enough to be dipped in soy sauce. They completely fell apart in the mouth, leaving a slightly salty sesame taste behind. I could gobble them up like potato chips all night, and would have but we had more food coming…
A pork belly and mung bean pancake was next. Beautifully covered with kimchi, pineapple, greens and a little egg in the center, it was both lovely to behold and vexing to approach. There’s some part of me that hates to break apart a pretty dish. Fortunately, the enticing aroma helped me grab the knife and dig in. So good! The saltiness of the pancake was balanced by a zing of kimchi and sweetness of the pineapple. It was a little tricky to build a “perfect bite” but worth the effort and mess to get all the flavors together at once.
The next dish was easier to eat and just as tasty. Thick noodles were the backdrop for a ragout of lamb crumbled with sichuan peppercorn and cumin. The addition of cilantro sprigs gave the dish a freshness and texture. As it turned out, all the larger dishes we tried had fresh greens generously heaped on top. I don’t know if this is a hallmark of Korean food or the chefs, but I personally loved it.
Instead of ordering a large plate, we opted for the hot pot. It has its own section on the menu for a reason. The pot took up half our table and was filled to the brim with prawns and clams in a spicy broth made with blue crabs. The adventure was in the additional layers both above and below the broth. From the zingy crown daisy greens on top, crispy black radish circles in the middle, and sticky rice cake on bottom, each spoonful was a treat of flavors and texture.
Note to self: on date night, don’t wear a cute silk top and try to dismember prawns. Nothing good will come of it. The alert staff was quick to send over soda water to help me out — much appreciated!
The drinks at Parachute are worth noting, too. They only had Rosa Hibiscus ale from Revolution Brewing on tap, which was our choice for the evening, but also had a brief, but nicely curated selection of ales and Belgium beers in the bottle. Three house cocktails are available, including a wonderful looking pisco sour we saw delivered to our neighboring table, and a fairly priced wine selection. A carbonated rice wine called Makgeolli, locally made in by Baesangmyun Brewery, was recommended with the hot pot. It would have won but we were enjoying our Rosa too much.
There was no dessert. Why? It was brutally loud. They completely ruined any desire I may have had to spend a single a moment longer. When we sat at our table, the volume was reasonable. Unnoticeable even. However, after our first dish arrived and the tracks crept up to shouting range, we asked our waitress for help.
She went back and forth all night between guests (not just our table) and the “DJ” working at the bar who had no idea how loud the speakers were in the front of the house. If your stereo system needs fixing, fix it. If I have to resort to texting in order to have a conversation with the person across the table, then there is a problem.
It was an amazing meal and I want to try more of the menu. However, unless they get the volume right, I’d rather eat at the White Castle up the street.
Have you been to Parachute? Were you blown away or blown out? Let me know!