I will not apologize for the amount of food publications I subscribe to, but at a certain point it became necessary to take a long, hard look at the amount of paper that was piling up on bookshelves, end tables and empty corners around the house. I recycle religiously but couldn't keep the feelings of guilt at bay for purposefully and heartlessly slaughtering trees just to get my foodie fix.
Thank goodness for Zinio and magazines that embrace digital platforms. I now hungrily scroll through one digital device rather than wander the house aimlessly in search of a specific food rag, but I can guarantee you the current issue of Bon Appétit would be massively dog-eared and probably clutched possessively under one arm if I still received it in its natural form. Quite easily located and hard to put down, the September issue, which features their annual list of "America's Best New Restaurants", has taken center stage. Each year I anxiously await new locations to put on my bucket list and wonder if in my recent travels I've been lucky enough to have already been to one.
This year, I scored. I made it to one Top Ten location before it was published in BA's annual review (though they've been singing it's praises for many months now): Parachute in Chicago. I came close to making it to Manolin in Seattle during my visit to the Pacific Northwest this past June but ran out of time. I did, however, enjoy some excellent vodka and Pelmini (dumplings) at Portland's Kachka, which was among BA's Top 50 Nominees.
In Chicago this past May for a design conference, Parachute was at the top of my list of places to dine, so I saved it for Wednesday, May 6th, which happened to be my birthday. I've had a long-standing love affair with bread, and when I first read about Parachute's infamous Bing Bread in BA way back in January, I had to investigate them further. As if the bread wasn't amazing enough, I discovered the location to be "Korean-American", focusing on globally inspired cuisine served tapas-style. When I dine alone and for the blog, tapas-style service works well for me (I can sample a variety of dishes in small quantities) and when it comes to craving comfort food on my birthday, it's always going to be Asian-influenced.
Korean food is still new to me, but I am enjoying strengthening our burgeoning relationship. Bolstered by fruitful attempts with bi bim bop recipes in my own little kitchen and intrigued by Parachute's not-quite-traditional yet interesting take on the dish that week (their bi bim bop changes often), neither hell nor high water was keeping me from my 7 o'clock reservation.
As a longtime resident of a top-ten-sparse section of the country, I'm secretly insanely proud to have made it to one of BA's Top Ten (so far - the year's not over yet). This was my Parachute experience.
Parachute is made up of communal seating as well as individual tables. As a solo-diner I actually enjoy eating communally (especially if the location is right in front of the kitchen) but there was no way I was perching precariously atop either of those stools. I get the idea, I enjoy the aesthetics, but do either one of those seating options look comfortable? This, and only this, was my one caveat with Parachute. They were happy to seat me at a small table for two, I just felt bad taking up the extra spot.
With a menu that changes often, it behooves the local clientele to visit often, and who could blame them? I'm not embarrassed to say I would have tried a little taste of everything if they'd wanted to try me, but I settled for a half order of Bing Bread and the white asparagus with tandoori chicken skin and raita for starters.
The bing bread is everything people say about it, and more. Crispy-tender potato-studded bread with bacon and scallions and sour cream butter on the side. It's not easy to make but if you're as far away from Chicago as I am, you should attempt it. The tender white asparagus with the deeply spiced tandoori chicken skin and creamy raita was a pleasant stand-in for a more traditional salad.
Those two dishes alone were deeply satisfying and more than enough to fill one birthday tummy, but I couldn't turn away from the bi bim bop. You'll find a recipe in this month's BA for their bi bim bop featuring hanger steak but that evening in May they featured a Dolsot bi bim bop highlighting Spanish Mackerel, escarole, preserved lemon, barbecued onion, seaweed and a soft egg.
The hallmark of a good bi bim bop is that it first delivers aesthetically; carefully coordinated and colorful ingredients are composed strategically to please the eye of the diner first. The sizzle of the hot rice crisping against the bottom of the dolsot (stone) bowl, combined with the smokiness of grilled meat has conversations stopping mid-sentence as you grab for your spoon. It's difficult at first to distress the beautiful layout of a well-composed bi bim bop, but the dish is meant to be eaten in such a way that each spoonful is comprised of the "perfect bite" - a little bit of each component in every mouthful.
You don't need a traditional stone bowl to make bi bim bop, you can get the same crispy-bottomed effect on your rice by employing a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet. Try Parachute's hanger steak bi bim bop recipe for starters, found here at Bon Appétit.
And if you happen to have leftovers, please give me a call.