There was a time in my life — a two-income, no-kids time — when I was really keyed in to the Chicago restaurant scene. I followed chef arrivals and departures, hot neighborhoods, and trendy cuisines like a bookie follows the ponies. My husband and I saved our pennies to eat at Charlie Trotter’s and TRU and Topolobampo on special occasions. And in between those times, we sampled Costa Rican and Filipino and Lithuanian food. We ate Indian on Devon & Thai on Argyle. We even lived in a trendy neighborhood, Bucktown, where new restaurants cropped up like toadstools. I used to contribute restaurants review to The Chicago Reader‘s website, dish with fellow food-lovers in LTHForum and apply to be on “Check, Please!” (I almost made it too.)
Ah well. Now I have kids and live in the suburbs. Although I have managed to avoid the TGIFriday’s by the Oak Park Metra station, most of my dining out takes place at a handful of local restaurants. But that doesn’t mean I don’t still pay attention to what is happening in the Chicago restaurant scene. So, it had not escaped my notice that Top Chef-winner Stephanie Izard had opened a new restaurant in the West Loop — not to be confused with West of the Loop — in 2010. In truth, you would have had to really not been paying attention to miss this opening and it was no surprise when the quirkily-named Girl and the Goat became the hottest table in town. (And then was named best new restaurant by the Chicago Tribune.)
So, my friend Self-Made Mom booked a table for us and two of our fellow Chicago mom bloggers, Vanessa of Chef Druck Musings and Caitlin of Wee Windy City back in November and we finally got to go this week. And while the highly-anticipated dinner did not disappoint, the fact that illness kept Caitlin away did.
I am a good home cook. I really am. And sometimes when I go to a restaurant and eat a meal, I come away thinking, “Yeah, I could have done that.” A meal at Girl and the Goat is most assuredly not one of those times. The inventive combinations and complex flavors at Girl and the Goat quickly tell you that you are in the hands of a master chef. As Top Chefs go, however, you are not likely to meet one more affable than Stephanie Izard, who graciously signed a menu and posed for a photo with me in the middle of the dinner service. I have actually been following Stephanie’s career since before I moved out to the ‘burbs — I dined at her first restaurant, Scylla, which was near my old house in Bucktown.
Between my shellfish allergy and Self-Made Mom’s aversion to pork, we found ourselves concentrating on the vegetable small plates. And we barely sampled any of the eponymous goat. But what vegetables! As Vanessa put it, these were the most exciting vegetables any of us had eaten in a while. I was wowed by the roasted cauliflower with pickled peppers, pine nuts and mint. I found the addition of mint to be so unexpected. The chickpea fritters with romesco sauce were also superlative. I was less fond of the skirt steak with its salted goat milk caramel sauce — although my dining companions disagreed with me — but loved the skate with salsify and hazelnuts. Skate is such a French fish and you don’t often see it on menus in this country.
Another unusual combination came at dessert with the bittersweet chocolate torte which was accompanied by a shiitake mushroom gelato. Vanessa and I both sampled the gelato on its own and to be completely frank, it had a funky taste to it. Like dirt. But when the gelato was paired with the rich chocolate torte, it created a wonderful deeply nuanced dish with subtle undertones of the earthy mushroom flavor. You really have to be a Top Chef to pull that off.
For another perspective, read local blogger Jacky Hackett’s review of Girl and the Goat.