Todd and I took a long weekend trip to Chicago in January. The primary purpose of the trip was to see a Blackhawks game, but we ended up doing a lot more than taking in the Hawks vs. the San Jose Sharks, among which was the second event we made reservations for: dinner with Leesa and Scott at Girl and the Goat.
Girl and the Goat is the West Loop brain child of Stephanie Izard, thus far the only woman to win the title award on TV’s “Top Chef.” Leesa tried to get snag us reservations there last year, but her efforts were futile, so this year, I tried to book a few months in advance using OpenTable. When I had no success with that (it kept telling me I was trying to book too far in advance), I e-mailed the restaurant and found out that while OpenTable imposed a 90-day-early policy, they booked up to a year in advance (!) by phone! So, needless to say, I called immediately and signed us up for what would either be a very early (5:30) or very late (after 9) dinner; we opted for the early.
Take in mind, it was pretty easy for me to get a dining time because we were flexible, but apparently, this is not always the case! I have heard several people since say that they have had to wait for months to get a table. Granted, we booked three months in advance, but I have no idea how successful (or not) we would have been if we had tried to book something more immediate when I made the reservations back in October, so it seems like either way, we totally lucked out.
So, did Girl & the Goat live up to the hype? Was it worth the wait? Two words: Heck, yeah!
First, they have a rotation of breads. A rotation. You know how so many places have one signature bread? Well, G&TG rotates in three per night:
They may not look like much, but the night we went, we had these three: the Squish Squash (a squash-based loaf) served with apple purée and pecan butter, the pretzel loaf served with honey mustard butter and 1000 island and the Chicken Little (a chicken noodle-based loaf) served with chicken liver butter and carrot sage oil. If that doesn’t get your mouth watering, you must be one of those anti-carb people. And even then . . . you know you secretly want it.
The rest of the menu is divided into sections by main ingredient type: vegetable, seafood or meat. I couldn’t tell you which items necessarily came from which menu section, as I believe the following came from the meat section:
Ham frites, people. Ham frites with tomato aioli and beer cheddar dipping sauces. The beer cheddar packed a lip-smacking punch — and who doesn’t like a good aioli with their fried carbs? So good. I’m not exactly sure where the “ham” came in other than that maybe the potatoes were fried with some bacon-like deliciousness. It was straight up fried goodness. Everyone at the table enjoyed these.
Pretty much anyone from Hawai‘i could identify these by their signature flat bone cut:
These Kalbi-style ribs were done with the authenticity you’d expect from any Korean restaurant. Todd liked them for their simplicity, especially among the cacophany of flavors and exotic offerings on the menu. (Yes, this is a “safe” dish for those who may not be into taking too many culinary risks.)
The more adventurous among us enjoyed a few other dishes, as well:
Spaghetti squash provided the perfect textural complement to these blue prawns. The peanut-pork ragout was like a richer version of a Thai-inspired peanut sauce. I never would have expected such freshness of shrimp so far inland, but the salty flavor of the ocean was perfectly preserved in these perfectly cooked crustaceans. A definite winner.
The goat, pork and veal sugo with pappardele was delicately seasoned with rosemary (which can be too strong if you’re not careful) and cape gooseberries. I’m not really sure how the flavors all balanced out with this one, as none of these are ingredients I would normally cook with (except for maybe pork), but we really liked this dish, too. I think I picked it because of the berries in the description, and the gamble really paid off.
Finally . . . THE PIG FACE!
Leesa was relieved when she learned that we would not actually be presented with an actual pig’s face (which, if you’ve ever been to a Chinese restaurant or a Filipino party, you know they can do). In fact, as you can see from the photo, you can’t even see the pork (wood-roasted pig cheek) pretty much at all until you move the egg aside. The way this dish works is, you break the egg and mix everything on the plate together. It looks completely unattractive at that point, but once you taste it, you don’t care. The main ingredient is fork tender and melt-in-your-mouth delicious, seasoned with tamarind and cilantro, with potato sticks providing just the right touch of crunch.
Girl & the Goat received a 2011 James Beard nomination, and Stephanie Izard was named Food & Wine’s Best New Chef of 2011. Why these awards are hanging in the dark basement hall, I couldn’t tell you, but they are well-deserved in a city that takes no culinary prisoners.
Oh, yeah . . . and I totally dig the napkin-holders:
We’d definitely dine there again! G&TG is a welcome addition to the mandatory Chicago dining experience.