travel

this girl and girl and the goat

Our next foodventure in Chicago was a visit to Stephanie Izard’s Girl & the Goat.  Selina had heard delightful things about this new restaurant and booked reservations months ahead of time, while I anticipated this meal with unabashed glee as I was a big fan of Izard’s ever since Top Chef.  A meal this epic required expert eaters, so our friend Adam, a guaranteed overachiever in this field, joined us three for the evening of overindulgence. We started at 5.30 (even with reservations months in advance!) and ended a mere 3+ hours later with satisfied stomachs and bulging beltlines.  Without a doubt, one of the best meals I have ever had, even though I couldn’t try everything.

Yes, there will be goat.  I loved the servers’ t-shirts that said “Don’t feed the goat, but beer is okay.”

Even at the early-bird special time of 5.30pm the restaurant was busy with folks pondering the menu at the beautiful wood bar.

Chef Izard expediting at the bustling open kitchen.

Our menu: marked, edited, and underlined. The server did a fantastic job of describing what would be a meal of small plates shared at the table, which dishes he could make pescatarian for me and which ones he didn’t recommend altering.  After all of our orders were in, he then choregraphed the meal to smoothly sail from light to heavy.  After encouraging our party of four to order eight or nine items, he didn’t bat an eye when we ordered eleven…and then two more dishes at the end…and the entire dessert menu.  Then he presented us the menu as a souvenir.

To start, a rustic and earthy fresh baked loaf of bread with house cultured butter and a ripe and creamy concoction known as beer cheese sauce.  Like fondue distilled to an intense essence, a fantastic way to start off the meal, and a great accompaniment to the complex and delicious cocktails prepared at the bar.

Wood fired Tomahawk oysters with bits of artichoke, green garlic and bacon.  As an oyster non-fan, I will humbly attest to their wonderful plump, briny flavor highlighted perfectly in this elegant dish.

Adam’s favorite was the lamb tartar, with an English pea tapenade and tuna aioli.  He found the unique twist on the traditional tartar refreshing.

My favorite was the chickpea fritters with romesco, hazelnut hummus, sesame, and goat feta.  The delicately fried fritters were light and crisp with a creamy center like fried tofu.  All of the flavors melded together wonderfully.

The wood fired razor clams were dressed with peanuts, chili,and sweet garlic which seemed at the time like an odd combination. Peanuts and clams? Sounds quite discordant.  In actuality, the Southeast Asian flavors worked really well and the sauce was delectable – the clams just ended up a bit over cooked and chewy.

The kabocha squash ravioli with mushroom raisin ragu, brussels leaves, and mushroom creme fraiche sounded like a vegetarian delight on paper. In reality this was thought to be the least successful dish for being surprisingly bland, and I for one am opposed to raisins in general (except Raisin Bran and oatmeal cookies).

The roasted halibut with brandade, grilled asparagus, green garlic, and blackberry was finished lickety split, however.  The fish was perfectly tender with a crisp sear, and the different textures were a revelation in palate pleasing flavor.

Our table decided to go with the goat belly confit for our goat dish, in this case accompanied by bourbon butter with lobster and crab,  and fennel.  B was a fan of this dish, with the gameyness of goat offset by intense flavor from its preparation as confit and paired luxuriously with the richness of lobster and butter.

Selina convinced the table to order the wood oven roasted pig face, blanketed by a sunnyside egg, cilantro, and potato stix.  After overcoming the initial disappointment/relief that it didn’t look like a cute piggy face staring back at us, the consensus was that it was actually pretty darn good. Although I do not condone eating faces, anything is enticing with an egg on top.

The dinosaur-sized pork shank with truffled apples and truffle tapenade was a savory meat-fest.  Although the presentation was awe-inducing, it didn’t end up on anyone’s favorite list, so we couldn’t end the meal there. Thus, we decided to order up two more dishes.

We were assured by our server that the cauliflower was a fan favorite, with pickled peppers, pine nuts, and mint.  It was simple and homey, yet surprising with the pickles – it tasted almost like a chutney to aloo gobi curry.

We ended on perhaps the lightest note, a refreshing palate cleanser of hiramasa crudo with aji chili and caperberries.  The fish was delicate, pleasant, and lightly dressed yet full of astounding flavor. I’m so glad we ended the dinner portion with this dish as its simplicity belied the balancing act of flavor that made it one of my favorites.

Onto dessert, parts 1, 2, 3, and 4.  A simple mason jar, with fluffy cream, cake, crumbs and fruit.

My favorite dessert, the rhubarb n’ lemon: a trifle of shortcake, buttermilk pannacotta, lemon gelato, and salted graham cracker.  I could eat these sitting in a rocking chair out on the porch on a hot day, all day.

Next up, the blood orange sorbet with the ingenious parnsip pot de creme, under a pistachio cake with cornmeal crust.  We had a parsnip flan at Crush in Seattle, who knew it could lend itself to a complex, yet ultimately successful dessert? The other desserts similarly played around with a distinctly vegetal or savory component to counter the sweet.

For example, the bittersweet chocolate cake was topped with shiitake gelato and toffee creme fraiche.  Selina thought this to be the best chocolate cake ever, deeply intense in chocolate flavor yet fragile and airy in texture.  The shiitake gelato, with its earthy foresty tones actually worked quite well to balance what could have been a cloyingly sweet dessert.

Lastly, the pork fat donuts with sesame semifreddo and sambal pineapple.  I asked my table-mates if the donuts were sweet or bacony. Their reply – “oh. my. gahhhhhh….the donuts are sweet and soooo good, and also porky.” Porky. Kind of like a sweet maple fritter fried up in leftover bacon fat. Salty, animal-y, but not quite savory. Porky – there’s really no other way to describe them. Or us, by the end of the meal.

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