I am always looking for the restaurant.
I talk about food like proud mothers talk about their honor students, so when people come to Chicago to visit, I feel the pressure to take them to the one restaurant that they have to try before they leave. This isn’t as easy as you would think, considering how different people’s preferences and expectations can be. Pretentious, fine dining establishments don’t scare me one bit if it means amazing food, but white gloves and 4 forks may induce nausea in others.
Back to the point – I think I may have found the restaurant. Behold:
Girl and The Goat opened 7 weeks prior to our trip there. Star chef and winner of the fourth season of Top Chef, Stephanie Izard, is the Executive Chef. Our server informed us that, unfortunately, the night we dined was the FIRST night since they opened that Stephanie wasn’t in the kitchen. Bummer, ’cause we were sitting at one of two communal tables facing the open kitchen.
I made reservations for 2 people on a Sunday night, but had to up it to 3, pushing the reservation to 10pm. To avoid the major shift in schedule, we opted to try our luck at dropping in and were immediately seated at a communal table. (To improve our chances for prompt seating, we went super-duper early at 5pm).
When you walk in, your sense of smell overrides your 4 other senses and you inhale wafts of slowly cooked pork before your eyes can even register the hip, dimly lit space. Your nose bypasses your brain and makes an agreement with your stomach that you’re going to order whatever that smell is. Once you snap-to, you notice the lounge-y seating area to the left, the bar just beyond that, the subtle, multi-level seating area, the communal tables and the wide, open kitchen. This space definitely has the elements of something new and trendy, but the attitude of Girl and The Goat (thanks to the passionate, but chill servers) makes you feel like you’re coming back to your favorite, old place.
Before making any big decisions, we immediately opted for the pretzel bread with gruyere butter and whole grain mustard applesauce.
After testing the waters with a small sampling of each accompaniment, I proceeded to slather both options on every, single bite. Sweet, salty, nutty, creamy – how could you go wrong? It’s almost mathematical, people. We ordered a bottle of Malbec while we attempted to decide what to order.
The menu is split into three sections: vegetables, fish and meat; each of which are composed of a selection of small plates. Think tapas-ish. The server recommended that we select 2 to 3 dishes per person. We decided to go with 2 dishes per person, and we were stuffed! For a good sampling of the menu, we ordered 2 from the veggie section, 2 from the fish and 2 from the meats.
First up, chickpea fritters, heirloom tomatoes and fresh mozzarella.
YUM! Imagine chickpeas dressing up as french fries for Halloween. This is what you’d get. Because they’re made of chickpeas and not potatoes, the inside of the fried square is creamy and light rather than hollow and airy. The heirloom tomatoes offer a great punch of acidity to the rich, fried chickpeas. For the second veggie course, we ordered pan-fried shishito peppers with Parmesan, sesame and miso (not pictured). They had just a little kick (mind you, I have a high tolerance to spicy food) and were quite delicious, but there were just too many. You can only eat so many peppers, ya know?
As for the fish, we started with the hiramasa crudo with crisp pork belly, aji aiolio and caperberries. Hiramasa is a sashimi grade Yellowtail Kingfish. (sashimi grade means that you can safely eat it raw). “Crudo” means that the raw fish is dressed in some sort of acidic liquid, such as citrus juice or vinegar. Paired with the crisp pork belly, this was really delicious. The server raved about the soft shell crab with sweet corn, so we ordered that as well.
Did you know that sweet corn is in season right now? Well after eating this, I knew it had to be! (Hurry though, because the sweet corn season is coming to an end) The corn popped happily as I chewed and bursts of wonderful, sweet, juicy corn abound.
Now for the meat course. Our server also gave us a gushing recommendation for the grilled lamb ribs with a sweet onion bbq, grilled avocado and pistachio picada. I will tell you, I have had more than a few less-than-pleasant encounters with lamb so I am often reluctant to order it. My biggest complaint is that the meat is often tough. These lamb ribs were anything but tough. They were sweet, salty, juicy and succulent. For our last small plate, we had the smoked goat pizza.
As a group, our brains inserted the word “cheese” into that title, leading us to believe we had ordered a “smoked goat cheese pizza”. On the contrary, my friend. Biting into this pizza, there was a little surprise at the lack of goat cheese and a lot of satisfaction with the combination of flavors. When our server returned to check on us, we inquired about the meat – is this what I think it is? Is this – “Yes!” She says, “It’s goat!” Wow, with those crazy eyes that goats have, I never would have expected them to taste so good! Sort of like slow roasted, pulled beef. Our server went on to explain that, if cooked improperly, goat can have a gamey texture. She also explained how Stephanie put a lot of time into visiting all of the farms that were going to supply her restaurant. Almost all of the meat comes from a farm between Chicago and Peoria, IL (except the lamb, that comes from Colorado…they can’t keep up with demand or produce the same quality in Illinois.) This conversation made me fall even further in love with this restaurant. There’s something about that kind of pride in the ingredients and care for the source of the food that makes me a believer.
Hanging on to the birthday excuse for a little while longer, we went for dessert. Since we had such a memorable experience with the creamed corn dessert at Blackbird, we went for the creamed corn dessert here as well. It was presented in a rustic mason jar with a single candle burning for the birthday boy.
The creamed corn semifreddo was immensely rich and creamy, exactly what we were hoping for. There was an apricot mixture in the base of the mason jar that was a little too acidic for me. I can see how it should have been complimenting the richness of the semifreddo, but instead, it overpowered the creamy mixture on top and detracted from the overall flavor profile of the dessert.
While the dessert didn’t knock my socks off, I was extremely pleased and impressed with Girl and The Goat. My fiancée has been talking about this place to anyone that will listen for the past week and is already trying to schedule our next trip. The ambiance, the service and the food were wonderful and I think it came at a great value ($7 – $16/per dish). I would highly recommend this restaurant. I think this could be the restaurant in my book. You can expect me to take you here if you come to visit.