Monday, August 6, 2012

Girl & the Goat

My idealistic goals of writing at least a few posts in the past two-and-a-half months or so were just plain silly. After another great trip to LA, my last set of law school finals (huzzah!), a celebratory drive down to Portland for Memorial Day weekend, graduation (it's official!), and one of the absolute worst experiences of my life (the bar, or as some of my friends now refer to the test-that-shall-not-be-named, the bratwurst), I'm back.

And to celebrate the return of this here blog, tonight, I'd like to share one of a just a couple more experiences from my January trip to Chicago: Girl & the Goat.

I had been a huge fan of Stephanie Izard during her season of Top Chef.  She always seemed focused on flavor, put-together, drama-proof, and generally a nice person who didn't crumble under the extreme pressures of reality television. When she became a "Best New Chef" in Food & Wine magazine, I was excited. Something about that award, and the countless others that followed, legitimized what Top Chef tested and who Top Chef crowned. And after attempting a few of her cookbook recipes at home, I was more than curious to see what her restaurant had to offer.

The interior is, to say the least, spacious, with vaulted ceilings, smart lighting, a walk-in friendly lounge and bar, and a beautiful display of liquors.

Your safest bet, however, is to make a reservation. The bar and lounge can fill up quickly, and relying on a last-minute cancellation can be stressful. But if you don't end up making a reservation, peeking your head in can't hurt.

I went with, obviously, Steph C., my partner in indulgent mastication.  And indulge and masticate we did.

The night started on one of its highest notes with Chickpea Fritters, served in a rich stew of chickpeas, pickles, and red onions topped with a drizzle of creamy mozzarella.  The stew was comforting, packed with sweet tomatoes and well-cooked chickpeas, brightened up with a the crisp red onions and acidic pickles.

The star of the dish, however, was the incredible chickpea fritter.  Lightly fried and crisp on the outside, soft and silky on the inside.  Like with a cube of agedashi tofu, cutting into this fritter was effortless.

Next up were some Grilled Rainier Oysters. I'm an oyster purest. I like my oysters freshly shucked and immediately eaten.  No mignonettes, no lemon, no horseradish.  Because an oyster by itself, in its rawest form, is magical. These, however, were good, if not better than good. The oyster meat itself was warm and just barely cooked on the outside, opening up to the oyster's glorious briny juices. Topped with just a touch of some acidic finger lime and a velvety, smoked uni vinaigrette, this is one cooked oyster that this purest would not mind having again.

Our adventure continued with one of my favorites of the night: Pan Fried Shishito Peppers. Holy shishito these were tasty. Beautifully blistered, well-salted, and topped with generous portions of parmesan, sesame, and miso.  The texture was perfect with an easy bite and a light crispy shell.  Any remnants of the cooked-off spiciness was well-balanced with the creamy parmesan and sweet miso glaze.  The smart sprinkle of sesame rounded out the dish with a definitive Asian flavor profile.  I need to attempt to make these at home at some point. Soon. They'd be the perfect every-second-of-the-day snack.

A snack I wouldn't want to have every second of the day is their Ham Frites. Not because I didn't love these guys, but because these have no chance of ever coming off as a healthy snack.  At least with the peppers you're eating a veggie with some sesame seeds. And some sweet miso.... And some creamy parmesan....

But really, it'd be the healthier snack when put up against a basket of ham fries, right?  Especially when those wonderfully crunchy and salty fries come topped with a generous dusting of dehydrated ham, flanked by a smoked tomato aioli and a cheddar beer sauce.  Oh, that cheddar beer sauce. So, so good. Needless to say, this dish was heavy, and Steph and I had a hard time getting anywhere near the bottom of the basket.

Another one of my favorites of the night was the Diver Scallops. Scallops are easily one of my favorite proteins. Creamy, toothsome, and, when seared, crisp with a capital C.

The sear was perfect, as was the cook. The scallops sat in a mixture of goat broth and XO sauce that was both gamey and briny with each slurp. Under the scallops were bok choy, gems of squash, and pizza poofs, which each added their own forms of texture and heartiness.

The Crispy Duck Tongues were our sad attempt at getting something that remotely resembled a salad. The fried duck tongues were perfect--lightly crisp and insanely delicious. This, balanced with the acidity of Satsuma oranges, earthy roasted shiitake mushrooms, and bright Thai basil made for a very memorable dish. The bitter bits of arugula, punchy pickled red onions, and crispy sprinkle of wonton rounded out any excessively meaty bites.

Another great dish (holy cow, I forgot how many amazing plates we ate that night) was the Grilled Baby Octopus. The octopus was tender and perfectly grilled with just the right amount of char. When tossed with a smart understanding of hearty guanciale, Romano beans, radishes, and an appropriately nutty, sweet, and acidic pistachio-lemon vinaigrette, the octopus danced on my tongue with all four pairs of arms.

The Hen of the Woods Mushroom Ragout, in terms of flavor, at least, was great. The combination of sweet potato and earthy mushrooms was one of the most comforting bites I had in the midst of an acutely cold evening. The capers were a bit questionable after the first few bites, and the agnolotti could have been a touch more cooked, but the rich shroom creme fraiche was incredible, and overall, I liked what was going on in this dish.

The Sugo, however, was undeniably delicious. The al dente sheets of pappardelle were addictive, and a perfect balance of hearty beef/pork/goat/veal sugo (I mean, how can that not be amazing), rosemary, and cape gooseberries made each bite burst with a beautiful combination of rich umami, pleasant sweetness, familiar herbal notes, and delicate tartness.

The night, unfortunately, ended with our two least favorite dishes. The Confit Goat Belly was excessive. It could have been excessive simply because we had eaten more than our fair share at that point, but it was also excessive because the distinctive gaminess of the goat was only burdened by the heavy hand of bourbon butter, lobster, and crab. The fennel made meager attempts to brighten the dish, but overall, there was a noticeable lack of acidity.

The special Wood-Oven Roasted Pig Face was just as heavy, though I think the problem had more to do with the excessive portion of pig face than anything else.

The fried egg, tamarind and cilantro sauces, red-wine maple drizzle, and crispy potatoes were great, and would probably have gone really well with a small portion of the goat belly. Girl & the Goat brunch, anyone?

My favorite of the two desserts we ordered (because ordering dessert was masochistically appropriate at that point), despite its richness and chocolatey-ness, was the Chocolate-Thai Chili Gelato with an incredibly moist chocolate cake, addictive whipped-cream-like peanut fluff, tart pomegranate, and Left Hand Milk stout. The gelato could have used more of a kick and I would have liked some more pomegranate, but as far as chocolate desserts go (I'm not usually a big fan), this was pretty great.

The Gingerbread Cake with cranberry-orange sorbet, caramel, orange cream, and candied ginger was more up my alley, but was a bit less interesting. A pretty great blend of tartness, creaminess, and gingery kick.

Eleven savory dishes and two sweet dishes later, I suppose I was satisfied. If satisfied means bursting at the seams, even with my most forgiving pair of jeans. I spent the entire night intermittently looking at the huge, well-displayed, and geometric open kitchen with hopes of seeing Stephanie Izard, but to no avail. I took one last look at the kitchen before walking back out into the bitter, unforgiving Chicago cold, wishing I could have eaten just one more dish.

Girl & the Goat
809 W Randolph St
Chicago, IL 60607
(312) 492-6262

GET: Chickpea Fritters; Pan Fried Shishito Peppers; Diver Scallops;Crispy Duck Tongues; Grilled Baby Octopus; Sugo.


  1. Holy shishito, thanks for helping me relive a great meal. Bravo on the write-up. Let's eat again soon.

    1. Haha, thanks thanks. So pumped for tomorrow!

  2. Was it just the 2 of you with 11 dishes?

  3. Yum! I really like the food there, but I think some of the dishes are consistently too salty. Just means I have to drink more, I guess!

    You guys should come back when Little Goat opens in October!

    1. Oh, bummer! You should try cooking some of her stuff at home so you can control the saltiness! Her recipes are so effing good.

      Also, yes! So pumped for Little Goat!


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