Yes, I’m one of the lucky ones who have scored a reservation at the impossibly popular Girl & the Goat. Granted, I dined at a most unfashionable time, 5:00 p.m. on a Tuesday. But sometimes when a restaurant has this much buzz going – and Chef Stephanie Izard’s small plates emporium is totally buzzing – you take the early bird slot.
And man, I’m glad I did. Izard, who shot to culinary stardom on Top Chef, is preparing some really awesome food in her state of the art West Loop kitchen. (I say “awesome” because it’s a word the fun-loving Izard uses liberally.)
Izard’s always-changing seasonal menu is divided into three categories – vegetables, fish and meat – and features ten dishes in each group. To create these 30 dishes, she uses a mind-boggling array of locally produced, compelling ingredients.
“[My food] is all about the different layers of flavors,” Izard says. “It gets your whole mouth happy.”
And that just may be the secret to her raging success. While other chefs are doing smallplates with multi-layered flavors, Izard has a seemingly effortless gift for balancing interesting textures and flavors and perfectly melding them into satisfying and delicious dishes.
“I make some of them up on my way to work,” says Izard, revealing how nimbly her mind works when it comes to her food.
I’m sure even Izard misses every now and then, but everything I tasted – and I ate more than humanly possible – was a hit. I started with one of Izard’s self-described “kick-ass breads with dipping sauces.”
“Our bread is delish and awesome,” says Izard, whose major pet peeve is “cold bread with cold butter.”
I selected the playful poke at canned soup, “not Campbell’s,” ($4) from the evening’s selection. Indeed awesome, the warm, flavorful broccoli-cheddar bread was served with savory mushroom soup butter and tomato soup oil. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit it, but the mushroom soup butter was so scrumptious, I ate it with a spoon.
From there, I moved on to veggies. Chickpea fritters ($11) with romesco sauce, hazelnut hummus, sesame, and goat feta were surprisingly light with a fresh lemon flavor. Kabocha squash ravioli ($11) with mushroom raisin ragout, Brussels leaves and ‘shroom crème fraiche was simultaneously buttery-rich, slightly sweet and a tiny bit hot. Incorporating pickled peppers, pine nuts and mint into her popular roasted cauliflower ($7), Izard turned this humble vegetable into something notable. The chef treated me to her signature sautéed green beans ($8) with fish sauce vinaigrette and cashews. The amply portioned dish was all at once crispy, creamy and crunchy.
It was nearly impossible to pick from Izard’s enticing list of fish and seafood dishes. I wisely opted for grilled seppia ($13) – tender-chewy cuttlefish served with parsnips, sea beans, smoked tomato, and avocado vinaigrette – which left a kicky hot sensation in my mouth. Slightly sweet pan roasted red fish ($16) with black beans, butternut squash and chicken of the woods mushrooms also was, well, awesome.
I obviously could not dine at Girl & the Goat without sampling one of Izard’s goat-centric dishes. Stuffed beyond belief, I passed on goat liver mousseline ($9) and smoked goat pizza ($16) in favor of Izard’s goat, pork and veal sugo ($12) with delicate pappardelle pasta, rosemary, and tart cape gooseberries. Izard’s slow-cooked sauce united the three meats into a singular full-bodied flavor.
Desserts can be described in the same fashion as Izard describes herself: “quirky.” And these unconventional meal finishers carry out her trademark technique of successfully layering varying flavors and textures. Bourbon apples, for example, were served with cranberry, miso Marcona almond, and bacony maple fat (yes, maple fat) gelato. Sticky date cake with Three Philosophers [beer] marshmallow, Meyer lemon quince and pepita crunch was equal parts sweet and salty.
Izard’s menu challenges diners to be adventurous. Yes, she serves goat because, in part, her restaurant’s name dictates it. But it’s also on the menu because it’s good, says Izard, who only discovered the animal in recent years. And hers is particularly good, she says, because it comes from a dairy farm, where it’s fed cow’s milk and grass.
“When people try it, they realize goat is delicious,” she says. “It’s rich and not as fatty as pork. It’s a tasty, yummy meat.”
Not one to waste, Izard uses meat from her goats’ heads to make her twist on the oft-maligned dish, head cheese. She calls it “pig face,” because she thinks it’s a funny and catchy name. Although I wimped out, the night I was there she was serving it wood oven roasted with a sunny-side up egg, tamarind, cilantro, and potato stix ($16).
“When you see it on the menu, I want you to go ‘What the f**k?’ ” says Izard, who is known for her salty vocabulary and her badass attitude. “We let our personality come through on our menu.”
The Girl & the Goat
809 West Randolph Street
Chicago, IL 60607