The Girl and the Goat

Stephanie Izard has been on a roll ever since winning Season 4 of Top Chef on Bravo. Shortly after becoming the first and to date only woman to win that competition, she opened her own restaurant. The Girl and the Goat has been packed since the day she opened the doors and, after a recent visit, I’m not at all surprised. This gastropub has everything–an oh-so-cool ambiance, killer small plates, marvelous service and reasonable prices.

It’s difficult to adequately describe the interior or the experience. It’s in a converted warehouse in the West Loop. enormously high ceilings and a scattering of  wood tables. The kitchen, which spans the entire back wall,  is in full view, hidden only by rows of shelves that hold dishes of assorted shapes. A gigantic wood-burning oven is the focal point, and its aroma makes the restaurant smell like a campfire. The bar is off to one side of the huge restaurant, but it is very much a part of the scene. Communal tables are in these days, and they are a major seating component at The Goat. We were fortunate to snag a table for 3 in the corner of a row of booths that runs the length of the restaurant, making it easier to converse with two lifelong friends whom I rarely get to see, yet we still felt part of the action.

The menu trots around the globe, with an emphasis on the Mediterranean. It’s divided by Vegetable, Meat, Fish, Bread, Oysters and Goat. The ingredient pairings are incredibly exciting,  and unusual to the point of being the first time I had experienced many of the combinations. But it all works; each dish is properly balanced but with bold flavors, and complex without any fussiness.

Our server walked us through the menu and suggested ordering 2-3 dishes per person.  After a civilized negotiation we created our meal and ordered. For the most part the dishes  came out nicely timed, though at one point we had to ask them to slow down their delivery. Our request was met with profuse apologies.

We took our waiter’s recommendation and ordered the Culture Club bread. House-made butter and beer cheese sauce accompanied a chewy sourdough type loaf. We were just getting started, but it set the right tone.

From the vegetable list, we ordered Roasted Beets with green beans, anchovy and avocado creme fraiche, and Roasted Cauliflower with pickled peppers, pine nuts and mint. I’ve been eating more than my share of beets lately, they seem to be on every menu and we just finished off the ones in our garden, but the anchovy made them stand out. The cauliflower  was exceptional–I’ve never thought of this lowly vegetable as being a star, but it was splendid.

I had read about the grilled octopus and though I’m sure its partners change occasionally, I loved this particular rendition, with guanciale, wax beans, romano beans, radish, pistachio-lemon vinaigrette.  The octopus was smokey and the vinaigrette’s citrus mellowed the dish.

When I think of brandade, my mind goes to salt cod, but fortunately that didn’t stop me from giving this a try. It was one of my favorite tastes of the night. Seared scallops were layered with pumpkin brandade, fried brussels, pomegranate and spiced pecans. Wow.

Wood fired Walter’s Chicken was not your mother’s traditional roasted variety. The flavors were tantalizing and it was fun to eat with yuzu harissa, fried pickles, brussel slaw and grilled naan. We fought over the last piece and would have ordered another if we hadn’t had to pace ourselves.

With an entire menu devoted to goat dishes, the restaurant’s namesake, we of course had to sample a goat dish. Our very knowledgeable server suggested the goat rillette empanadas, but I was drawn to the Confit Goat Belly with bourbon butter, lobster ‘n crab and fennel. The goat was tender and rich enough on its own not to need the bourbon butter, but why not gild the lily a bit?

At this point, we were sated and happy…and we thought we were through. But as we were sipping the last of our wine, out came Wood Oven Roasted Pig Face with sunny side egg, tamarind, cilantro and potato stix.  It was visually appealing, but it turned out to be our least favorite item of the evening… perhaps because we were full, or maybe because the meat was a bit gamey and dry.

The portions are substantial and can easily be shared among 3-4 people. Unfortunately we had no room for dessert, one of many reasons I can’t wait to return.  Someone had told me that if I could score a reservation (no easy task I should warn you), it would be worth extending my Chicago trip, and she was right. It was an energizing evening and I am in awe of what Izard has created, both in terms of ambiance and food. She is one talented woman.

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