On the Road: The Girl and the Goat

Hancock Tower, Chicago

I was pretty much in some degree of food coma from December 23 to January 1. On top of all the Christmas goodies, Chester and I spent last week eating our way through Chicago.

Okay, it wasn’t all about food. We did other things, too. For example:

After Christmas sale shopping on Michigan Avenue.

View from Michigan Avenue Bridge, overlooking Chicago River

A trip to the Chicago Botanic Gardens.

A visit to the Lincoln Park Zoo, which was decked out in millions of lights.

New Year’s Eve celebration with family.

Really, thought, it was mostly about the food.

Our dinner at the Girl and the Goat, which is owned by Stephanie Izard, the winner of the fourth season of Top Chef, was easily our favorite meal of the trip. If I lived in Chicago, I would be a regular there.

I was thinking about how I would categorize the food, and it’s kind of tough. There’s definitely a good old American comfort food element, as many of the dishes use hearty, familiar ingredients as a base (pork, shrimp/scallops, chicken, green beans to name a few). But, the flavors in the dishes that we sampled ran the gamut from Asian to French to Mediterranean to Indian. This may sound like the place is all over the map, and it is—in a good, creative way. A lot of thought has clearly gone into choosing ingredients, flavors, and textures for each dish that will all come together in a way that totally works.

Plates are meant to be shared—most are slightly larger than the typical tapas style plates that you are probably used to seeing, and some are as large enough to be categorized as an entrée. We ended up sampling a total of six dishes—two from each of the other section of the menu—plus bread.

The menu is divided into vegetable, meat, and fish sections, each of which have some crossover with each other (i.e. not everything on the vegetable menu is vegetarian). The night that we visited there was also a list of goat specials. Neither Chester or I are fans of goat, so we skipped that section entirely.

Bread is baked in house each day; there were three varieties on the menu the day that we visited. We ordered the Oompa. It was still so warm from the oven when it was brought to our table that it burned our hands when we broke it apart. It had perfect, crusty exterior and a carrot/curry flavor (which gives it an orange color. Hence the name. Get it?). It was served with slightly salty walnut raisin butter and carrot oil for dipping. Most of us are probably used to getting bread for free in restaurants, but I would gladly pay for bread at every place I go to if it was like what we had at Girl and the Goat.

For the rest of the meal, we had:

1. Chickpea fritters: This may have been my favorite dish of the night. These little squares of stewed chickpeas are lightly fried and accompanied by an eggplant/tomato based sauce and bits of fresh mozzarella. The latter gives a little more substance to the dish, since the fritters are so smooth and light that they practically melt in your mouth.

2. Scallops: Two huge, perfectly seared scallops in a light brown butter sauce, accompanied by fried brussel sprouts. There wasn’t anything really special or different about this dish, but I love scallops just about anytime, anyplace, anywhere, as long as they are cooked correctly. And, they were in this case. So, I was happy.

3. Wild mushroom ragout: A rustic, earthy dish, served with sweet potato agnolotti (a flat, rectangular filled pasta) and a mushroom crème fraiche sauce. The addition of capers provided a bit of saltiness that was a nice complement for the sweetness of the pasta and mushrooms.

4. Escargot Ravioli: This was a different take on the traditional presentation of escargot, in that you had to fish out the escargot from the pasta instead of its shell. Overall, it was a pretty good dish. The pasta was light and the escargot was tender and briny. Bits of bacon on top were an interesting touch. The ravioli were served in a tamarind-miso sauce neither Chester or I could really taste it—it could have been a bit more pronounced.

5. Grilled pork ribs: I was worried that I would end up a total mess after eating this dish, but this was more of a deconstructed presentation, where the meat was taken off the bone. Strangely, though, there were some pieces of bone included on the plate, but nothing that really had a substantial amount of meat that could be consumed. Just for decoration I guess? Aside from that, I really did enjoy this dish. The pork was tender and a scallion vinaigrette and a tomatillo-mushroom slaw was served alongside it. Each bite had a different flavor—sometimes more Asian, sometimes more Spanish—depending on whether you ate the pork with the sauce or the slaw.

6. Pig Face: Probably my least favorite dish of the night, but Chester has proclaimed it one of the best dishes he’s ever eaten. The two oven-roasted patties are formed from the pig’s jowls and chin. I may have been a bit put off from the start by the fact that it resembled an over cooked piece of scrapple. However, flavor was a bit better and the texture far more interesting—chewy, crispy, tender and fatty all at the same time. It was served with potato sticks (that looked and tasted exactly like the bagged snack food I loved in my younger days), tamarind sauce, and a fried egg, which, strangely, all seemed to tone down the richness a bit. I didn’t totally hate it, but I probably would not order it if I went again.

After our last plate was cleared, our server brought the dessert menu for us to peruse. This was my only truly “meh” moment of the evening, as nothing at all seemed really appealing. Probably a good thing considering I don’t know where I would have fit dessert. I honestly can’t recall anything on the dessert menu, except for Chocolate Thai Chili Gelato. I had overheard someone at the next table who had been to the restaurant a couple of times talk about how he wasn’t really impressed with the dessert selections on any of his visits, so perhaps this is just not the restaurants strongest point. Maybe if I was still hungry, I would have ordered another round of chickpeas.

Service was excellent throughout the evening. Since it was so crowded, I was half expecting that we would be rushed out so that they could accommodate as many people as possible, but this was not the case at all. The food was served at a steady, but leisurely pace and the staff was attentive, without hovering or being intrusive. They seemed to materialize out of nowhere when water glasses needed to be filled or plates needed to be cleared. Our main server was extremely knowledgeable about the menu and did a great job of making recommendations diners who were having trouble narrowing down the options. I was surprised how reasonable the final bill was, considering we had quite a bit a food and a few glasses of wine with our meal.

I’ve got quite a few more places to share with you in another post. But, since I loved the Girl and the Goat so much, I thought I would give it its own post. Stay tuned for more.

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