Thursday, June 23, 2011

girl & the goat

Our first dinner reservation in Chicago was at Girl & the Goat. It's the restaurant of Chef Stephanie Izard, winner of Top Chef season 4. It was in West Loop, which wasn't very convenient via public transportation from where we were staying in River North, so we ended up taking a cab there. It was chilly outside anyway.

girl & the goat

The decor was somewhat rustic, with lots of warm wood, and it was pleasantly crowded inside—pretty lively for 6pm on a Tuesday night.

One of the interesting things we noticed when we got the menu was that there was a bread section. Most restaurants automatically bring you the obligatory bread, which is good but not terribly exciting. It's really just a filler—fill time before the rest of the food comes out, fill space in your stomach so you're not starving for too long. A few places have an olive tapenade or oil & vinegar, but it's often just good quality butter. Not exactly ground breaking.

The exciting thing here is that the bread isn't an opportunity missed. By offering three creative options for bread with accompaniments, and charging for them, the bread becomes a meaningful course rather than filler. It's also a lot less likely to go to waste. We chose the "Esteban Fresas":

esteban fresas . strawberry butter . strawberry rhubarb agrodolce

esteban fresas

This was a great way to start the meal. The bread was warm and fresh—kind of a dense, wheaty mini-loaf with almonds on top. To go with it, there was strawberry butter and strawberry rhubarb agrodolce. The strawberry butter had only a hint of sweetness, a little salt, and some strawberry flavor. Meanwhile, the agrodolce had the sweetness of the strawberries, as well as the acidity to cut through the butter. If the dessert menu hadn't been so appealing, I might have been tempted to end the meal with this too.

The next to arrive was our selection from the vegetable column of the menu:

roasted beets . green beans . white anchovy . avocado creme fraiche

roasted beets

I've come to enjoy beet salads, but a lot of them seem to be pretty similar. This one was a little different, though. It had green beans, white anchovy, avocado creme friache, and bread crumbs instead of greens, citrus, and/or cheese. There was a refreshing summer-like coolness to it all, balanced by the savory white anchovy and the crunchy breadcrumbs.

Goat came soon after. With the restaurant being called Girl & the Goat, I was expecting at least one goat dish on the menu. In fact, it had its own category on the smaller menu with the bread and the oyster preparations. We went with the Goat Carpaccio, which I was curious to try.

goat carpaccio . tongue-olive vinaigrette . smoked roe

goat carpaccio

It wasn't quite as memorable a dish as the previous couple, but it was still very tasty. The things that left the biggest impression were the delicate texture of the goat, sliced paper-thin, and the tangy acid of the vinaigrette. Good stuff.

The other revelation of the meal for me was the fish course:

pan roasted halibut . brandade . grilled asparagus . green garlic . blackberry

pan roasted halibut

I let Steve make our selection from the fish column of the menu. I probably would have chosen the crudo, the calamari with rabbit ravioli or the one with the soft shell crab over the more typical (read: boring) fish fillet. However, Steve chose well in this case. The halibut was complemented really well by the salt cod in the brandade, the slices of asparagus, the tiny potato chips, and the fruity blackberry sauce. This was certainly not lacking in personality.

One more savory course to go:

goat chorizo flatbread . ramp pesto . rhubarb . fresh ricotta

goat chorizo flatbread

More goat, but this one was from the meat column of the menu. It was a good combination for a flatbread. The goat itself wasn't too different from lamb or even beef, although a side by side comparison would probably show otherwise. Either way, it was good. The rhubarb on top was a nice touch too; we wondered if it was pickled, because it was somewhat acidic. The tragic part in all of this was that we couldn't finish it and still have room for dessert. We took the rest back to the hotel with us, but with no fridge in our room, we had to throw it away the next day. At least the kitchen got the message that we liked it.

But dessert was indeed necessary, especially with an option like this:

rhubarb n' lemon . shortcake . buttermilk panna cotta . lemon gelato . salted graham cracker

rhubarb n' lemon

What's not to like about layers of dessert in a Mason jar? Nothing, that's what. I guess it was a little hard to get all the way down to the bottom... But each new layer was a fun surprise in flavor or texture. There was the buttermilk panna cotta on top, the salty graham cracker crumbs, the cold lemon gelato, some spongy shortcake, and tart rhubarb compote, if I remember correctly. I may not have been able to eat all of the flatbread, but I finished this (with a little help from Steve).

Of the meals we had in Chicago, Girl & the Goat was one of my very favorites. It's just the sort of restaurant that Steve and I really like—small plates to share—and every dish was interesting (in a good way). I especially liked the unexpected use of fruit with the bread and the halibut. I don't know if that's a new trend, a Chicago thing or a Stephanie Izard thing, but I approve. Now, if we can just get back to Chicago some day to eat there again...

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