Thursday, November 22, 2012

GIRL & THE GOAT


Stephanie Izard may be best known as the winner of Top Chef season four and the only female chef declared champion in the show's history but Chicago natives are lucky enough to know her a little more intimately as the executive chef at Girl & The Goat, her self-described "rustic and bad ass" restaurant in the city's West Loop. While we definitely agree that this craft beer slinging beast of a restaurant is surprisingly well characterized by the adage "bad ass", rustic perhaps not-so-much. We're not sure why we had anticipated the restaurant to be considerably smaller than it turned out to be, but the term large fails to convey the colossal stature of this thunderous dining room. A small army of cooks in an open kitchen that lines the entire back wall of the restaurant crank out small dishes that pack a big punch for what must be easily more than 200 eager diners; some like us, holding long-standing reservations, others last-minute drifters and spontaneous eaters happy to wait in a staggeringly long line for one of the tables the house sets aside for walk-ins every night.

The menu is split into three parts: vegetables, meat & fish, but none of the three are mutually exclusive; a concise ancillary menu offers bread, oysters and goat centric sections each with about 3 or 4 choices. We began with a small loaf of zucchini & feta bread served with a Kalamata olive butter and hummus. The bread, of which there were two other equally interesting options are baked in house daily and served piping hot. The funky tang of the feta and the salty olive-butter paralleled one another splendidly, but the hummus while quite good and seemingly well associated to the same familiar mediterranean flavor palate was an unnecessary enhancer, the proverbial third-wheel in this menage-a-trois that was better suited to be a duo.

"Funky Feta" Bread, Kalamata Olive Butter, Hummus - 4$

Comforting and creamy-soft egg salad was well seasoned and provided textural contrast to subtly briny, crisp, fried oysters, each garnished with a singular, salty, fried caper that appeared less significant to the dish than it proved to be. As peripheral as the caper garnish initially seemed, it turned out to be the element that balanced the dish's flavor and put it over the top all at once. The presentation was amusing and attractive, each punchy mouthful was served on a spoon that looked like it had been bent by the mind of that creepy kid in The Matrix - Woah, Keanu.

Fried Naked Cowboy Oysters, Egg Salad, Capers - 12$

A french onion soup bowl filled to the rim with pan-fried shishito peppers would not escape our order, especially for a steal at 7$ a portion. A variation on a similar dish we fell in love with at Liverpool House in Montreal with Mimolette cheese and toasted pine nuts a few months earlier, this riff drew on the use of toasted sesame seeds, miso, and nutty parmesan cheese in a peculiarly comparable but equally lovable vein. Shishitos are an anomaly when it comes to hot peppers, they're inconsistently spicy so eating them is a little bit of a crapshoot. Ranging from sweet, to tolerably hot, to "my tongue is swollen and my forehead is sweating" you never know what you're gonna get so we recommend keeping a glass of cold beer on hand, appropriate considering they make a pretty wicked bar snack.

Pan Fried Shishito Peppers, Parmesan, Sesame, Miso - 7$

Squash blossoms are a summer time delight we can never get enough of. Their measurably bland zucchini flavor lends a helping hand, providing a medium that's a blank canvas for their chosen filling to shine, factor in the impossibly light texture when they're tempura battered and deep fried properly and you've got a winner every time. These ones were a play on rangoon, an American creation of fried wonton wrappers stuffed with crab meat and usually cream cheese often served in Chinese restaurants with a barely-deceptive name intended to lend "exotic" allure. The crab filling in the tolerably-oily, fried flowers was sweet and plentiful served atop a sufficiently pungent and lightly tangy chive yogurt. The dish was garnished with fresh pea tendrils and the crunch of buttery, toasted almond slices.

Squash Blossom Rangoon, Crab, Chive Yogurt, Toasted Almonds - 11$

What would a trip to Girl & The Goat be without some goat? Blasphemy, that's what. If the description "smoked goat rillette empanadas" doesn't speak to your appetite, we probably have very little in common. Encased in a dense but simultaneously flaky crust with the vibrant yellow color of a Jamaican patty, the identifiably smokey flavor of fatty and faintly gamey (in the best sense) goat rillettes was waiting to be discovered. The small but substantial parcels of goat were begging for something to lighten the dish up, which came in the form of lightly dressed, sweet, and gently acidic sun gold tomatoes and a vivid green piri piri sauce made of chilies which was surprisingly and regrettably not as spicy as we would've liked - maybe it's moderate application was to blame. A generous smear of albacore tuna crema beneath it all was vaguely fishy and reminded us of a component we're familiar with seeing on vitello tonnato dishes; it's moisture and consistency were assets to the dish's balance but the flavor, while good, was a little less crucial. At 16$ this dish wasn't exactly a bargain but not particularly outrageous either. Other available goat options on the menu that night included a goat carpaccio, goat liver mousse and a surf n' turf of goat's belly and lobster.

Smoked Goat Rillette Empanadas, Albacore Tuna Crema, Sun Gold Tomato, Piri Piri - 16$

Wood oven roasted pig face could be found in the "vegetables" portion of the menu, we kid. But seriously, what a dish. With the aid of an on-site wood fired oven, bits of meat pulled from a pig's skull were pressed and crisped in a cast iron pan, placed over crunchy matchstick potatoes and topped with a fatty, runny, sunny side up egg - this dish had our name all over it. Infused oils permeated with the fragrant flavors of fresh cilantro and tart tamarind, as well as sweetness by way of a drizzle of maple syrup blended with red wine offered a Jackson Pollock-esque presentation to the dish, but more importantly, depth and variation in flavor - these brightly colored oils weren't just there for their good looks.

Wood Oven Roasted Pig Face, Sunny Side Egg, Tamarind, Cilantro, Red Wine-Maple, Potato Stix - 16$

Tres leches is a South American dessert who's literal translation is "three milks". A sponge cake is liberally perforated with the help of a skewer and then whole milk, condensed milk and evaporated milk are poured over top to soak into the cake, the result is not soggy despite the understandable apprehension. This dessert was named "4 leches" and gathering from the name of the restaurant we asked if this was because the kitchen had added goat milk into the mix? That would be clever, we thought. Our waitress burst our bubble though, explaining that in addition to the three types of milk listed above, the kitchen had also used milk powder - a little less interesting than anticipated. The 4 Leches cake was served with a crunchy cereal streusel and fresh blueberries. Unfortunately nothing really worked for us in this dessert, not the lackluster presentation, not the uninspired use of cornflakes amidst the bevy of available interesting cereals that could've been taken advantage with which to make the streusel and not even the cake that was little-more than simply, OK.

4 Leches, Blueberry, Cereal Streusel - 8$

By the end of our meal the roaring noise level in the dining room had thankfully subsided significantly, we're not the type to complain about loud music in a restaurant but this wasn't music, it was the dizzying sound of hundreds of people all trying to talk over one another like your drunk uncles at Christmas time, only less funny. Aside from the dessert we were really impressed by the level of execution of the food, especially considering the sheer number of dishes that must have left the kitchen that night to serve that many customers. We were also impressed that despite having a section packed to the rafters our waitress was a pro, she was always available without being overbearing, casual but certainly not careless and the timing of the dishes that arrived at our table was pretty downright perfect. In terms of price, with the exception of the goat empanadas which in our opinion barely teetered on the reasonable side of the fence, we felt the meal for the most part represented pretty solid value, 7 dishes and 2 beers in a restaurant of this caliber coming in at less than 100$ including tax is very commendable. Look out for chef Izard's newest project, Little Goat which will be a hybrid diner and bar with a bakery offering fresh bread, the heavily anticipated launch has been pushed back several times but the latest estimates have the opening scheduled for December 2012.


Stay tuned for post 6 in our 6 part series spotlighting the restaurants we visited while in Chicago, Next up: G.E.B. Or view our previous Chicago post: The Purple Pig.



Girl & The Goat
809 West Randolph Street
Chicago, IL
312-492-6262
www.girlandthegoat.com

Girl & the Goat on Urbanspoon

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