2014 Best Bite #18: Portobello & avocado tempura, Oiistar

For the third year in a row, I’m using each day in December to celebrate the rest of the best bites (and sips) that I didn’t get to blog about in 2014, posted in chronological order. Browse all of this year’s Best Bites, or look back at year-end Best Bites from 2012 and 2013.

Portobello & avocado tempura, Oiistar
Portobello & avocado tempura with parsley, parmesan, and shiso pesto mayo

Why it’s another 2014 Best Bite: I’m a bit of an avocado fanatic, so when I saw this tempura appetizer on Oiistar’s menu, I knew I had to make a return trip to try it. The umami in the portobello worked well with the creaminess of the avocado, and the pesto shiso mayo made a bright dipping sauce – that is, once I found it under the heavy dusting of parmesan and parsley.

View another Best Bite from Oiistar.

The details: Oiistar, 1385 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago.

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This week’s Best Bite: Baked potato bing bread, sesame leaves, hand-torn noodles & more, Parachute

Crispy sesame leaves
Crispy sesame leaves with bourbon barrel soy

Why it’s this week’s Best Bite: In the past few months, nearly every food critic in Chicago has published a glowing review of Parachute, helmed by Top Chef alum Beverly Kim and her husband Johnny Clark. After dining there, I can only agree that they’ve brought something very special to a quiet block in Avondale – even against financial odds, as covered in this fascinating Chicago Tribune feature. Every dish I tried was imaginative and memorable, which made the whole meal one of my favorites this year.

I was already blown away after sampling the two snacks we ordered: crispy sesame leaves and baked potato bing bread. The leaves were lightly fried in a tempura batter, then ready to plunge in a bourbon-soy dipping sauce. Both components enhanced the sesame flavor brilliantly and make it the kind of snack you’d want to order over and over. The bing bread left a similar impression, packing all the best parts of a loaded baked potato into an even more texturally appealing format. The soft bread was rich without being greasy, and the sour cream butter that came on the side was another subtle hint of genius.

Baked potato bing bread, Parachute
Baked potato bing bread with bacon, scallion, and sour cream butter
Makgeolli rice wine and oysters, Parachute
Locally brewed makgeolli rice wine and oysters with soju granita

I was also impressed by the soju granita that came with an exquisite duo of West Coast oysters; besides being visually stunning, it added a cool, floral complexity unlike a typical mignonette sauce. To pair with the oysters (and the rest of the meal), we ordered makgeolli, a Korean rice wine that was brewed locally by Slow City Brewing. This was my first experience with rice wine, and I was fascinated by how its milky appearance belied a beer-like yeast flavor. One last standout dish was the hand-torn noodles, a toothsome tangle of wide noodles and ground lamb. The dish reminded me of an elevated version of chili mac, especially because of the sweetness in the lamb sofrito balanced by cumin and peppery heat. I’m already looking forward to my next meal.

Hand-torn noodles with lamb sofrito, Parachute
Hand-torn noodles with spicy lamb sofrito, sichuan peppercorn, and cumin
The charming interior, with polka-dotted glass and parachutes as curtains
The charming interior, with polka-dotted glass and colorful parachutes as curtains

The details: Parachute, 3500 N. Elston Ave., Chicago.

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