Girl & the Goat Chicago Restaurant Review
Before I had even started researching Chicago where-to-eats, I knew the Girl & the Goat was a must-do. The challenge, of course, was going to be making a reservation. Thankfully, like any Type A professional blogger, I had planned the trip so far in advance (4 months to be exact) that I miraculously was able to snag a Thursday night. Yep. Reservations here are tough to come by and are booked 4-6 months in advance, while they also reserve a small number of tables for (long-waited) walk-ins every night. Why the big hype? Well, I guess that’s what I was going to find out, but it was largely related to “girl” in charge- Ms. Stephanie Izard. Fans of Bravo’s Top Chef may recall her energy and skill as she knocked out the (largely male) competition and was crowned the show’s first female winning chef. The restaurant, the Girl & the Goat (named so as Izard is the name of a type of goat in the Pyrenees Mountains), was opened in 2010, and has received consistent rave reviews ever since.
We arrived at our reservation 9:15 to a massive room with tall ceilings, extensive garage like windows at the front, a wall-length bar, an even bigger open kitchen and a colourful whimsical goat themed artpiece on the wall. The place is really unlike anything back at home. Where Toronto’s hot spots tend to be so small you are elbow to elbow with your neighbor and fight for one of 25 seats, this just seemed too big to be hip. But yet, it was 100% packed inside and out (despite the frigid 10 degree evening weather)! Well as uncomfortable as those patio diners must have been, I can’t say it was much better inside. The noise level in the room was close to unbearable, leading us both to retreat to our respective phones because we couldn’t hear eachother speak anyways. Sat at deuce along the banquette beside two couples- one about 3 times my age, the other likely on par- we couldn’t help but notice the diverse crowd. Unlike a lot of the hotspots at home, it’s surprisingly not just hipsters walking around here. There are families with kids (dining at 10 PM!), senior couples out for date night (not sure how the noise fared for them!), well-dressed yuppies, girls out for a catch up and everything in between. Obviously, this place has serious mass appeal and that’s probably why it’s so hard to get in.
The service was friendly, efficient and professional but a little overstretched. Water glasses were consistency refilled, plates and cutlery were removed and replenished in a timely manner, and the whole meal moved at a very comfortable pace with each dish arriving about 10 minutes after the last. Having said that, I just found that in general, our server was a bit absent throughout the evening, and difficult to track down. I was, however, pleased that she removed one of our cocktails from the menu that we didn’t finish and apologized for our disappointment.
Speaking of cocktails, upon reading the drink list at G&G, I was pleased with the prospective offerings, though nothing struck me automatically off the bat. With all of the main spirits represented, there were about 8 signature housemade cocktails featuring fresh fruit, herb, and unique liqueur ingredients. Non-cocktail drinkers also have the option of one of their 30 or so international beers (mainly in bottles, but some in draft), or one of their 150 or so globally inspired wines. Being predominantly into the liquor right now, we started with the Chicago Derby (Four Roses Bourbon, Demerara, Mint, $13) and the Over Hill, Over Dale (Olmeca Altos Plata Tequila, Breckenridge Bitters, Chili Rhubarb Puree, Lemon, $13). The former was unexpectedly filled with soda water resulting in a disappointing watered down concoction, while the latter was tasty but nothing memorable. I actually tasted more grapefruit (a likely combination of the bitters and lemon) than any chili or rhubarb in there, but it was definitely drinkable, nonetheless. More successful were the wine suggestions our server made from the 16 available glasses, a Chardonnay from Monterey ($12) for him, and a Riesling from Elo-amity for me ($12).
Over Hill, Over Dale Chicago Derby
Much like the wine options, the food at G&G is globally inspired and packed with big bold flavours. There is not one consistent flavour trail, other than “foodporn” worthy, which always bodes will with me. There seems to be an emphasis on fresh, local ingredients, and an impressive range of proteins or vegetables being used. I am always super excited to see chef highlight vegetables, which often get relegated to a garnish in most restaurants. But here, vegetables get a much-deserved sexy spa treatment, and had there not been so many other sections of the menu to explore, I could have happily made a meal from the vegetable section alone. So speaking of sections, in addition to the vegetables, the menu is broken into meat, fish, oysters, bread, cheese, dessert and of course goat. With such an extensive list of offerings, I was buzzing with anxiety over what to choose- it was clearly an “eyes are bigger than your stomach” scenario no doubt. Everything here is family style and comes as it’s ready, which is always my preferred way to dine at home and out because it means I get to sample more. Hoping to try something from each category, we opted for:
Buenos Dias with Coffee Butter and Blueberry Vinaigrette ($4)
Served so hot I could barely bust in, the bread had a crusty exterior and a soft mildly sweet crumb. The coffee butter was divine, whipped to a light airy consistency with a hint of bitterness to balance the sweet acidic flavour of the vinaigrette. Worth the bread charge.
Raw Kusshi Oysters with Muscatel Mignonette & Tarragon ($12)
These were good, but by no means mind blowing. The oysters themselves were very small, and as a result were somewhat overwhelmed by the bold mignonette.
Wood Fired Wiley Point with Horseradish, Bacon and Preserved Lemon ($12)
Also not a favourite fish of ours because the horseradish and the bacon overpowered the oysters delicate flavour. Having said that, I did appreciate the bright preserved lemon for cutting some of the rich salt and fat.
Pan-Fried Shishito Peppers with Parmesan, Sesame and Miso ($7)
One of the best dishes of the night- these were highly addictive. The peppers were blistered to yield a nice balance of bitter and sweet that was countered beautifully with the umami-rich flavours of the parmesan, miso and sesame seeds. I also loved the balance of textures, with the slippery yet supple bite of the peppers to the shards of parm-sesame crust on top. Yum.
Kona Kampachi Crudo with Crisp Pork Belly, Chili Aioli and Caperberries ($16)
I quite liked this dish because I found it had nice balance in flavours and textures. The crudo was fresh and lean with the flavour hit coming in from the salty fatty pork belly, the creamy hot aioli and the acidic thinly sliced caperberries. A well thought out dish, though maybe a little small for the price.
Duck Tongues with Tuna and Black Bean Poke, Crispy Wontons and Piri Piri ($16)
I enjoyed this, but my partner definitely did not as there was some unexpected cilantro lingering throughout (which I trained myself to like but he has not). The duck was tender and cooked nicely, the poke brought a refreshing bite, and the wontons offered an irresistible crunch to draw me in for more. With piri piri going on, and likely the traditional umami-rich soy based poke marinade in there, the flavours were big, bold and satisfying with just enough heat and acidity to cut any fat from the tongue. Pricey, yes, but good.
Confit Goat Belly with Bourbon Butter, Lobster n’ Crab and Fennel ($19)
This was probably the best dish of the night, and maybe not surprisingly considering the restaurant isn’t called the Girl & the Duck Tongue, or the Girl & the Bell Pepper (that wouldn’t sound as good). The belly was seasoned perfectly and rendered completely to yield a salty, crispy, sumptuous bite that’s richness was nicely tempered by the fresh and delicate shellfish. Tying everything together, I loved the aromatic smokiness of the whipped butter, and the satisfying crunch of the sweet fennel to cut the fat. Maybe a little expensive for the portion size, but delicious nonetheless.
Goat Cheese Bavarois with Caramel Krispies, Blueberries and Brown Sugar Cake ($8)
This was a tasty way to end the meal, though not a dish you and your dining companion will fight over for the last bite. The bavarois was a bit like a very light whipped cheesecake but with the tangy bite of goat cheese in the mix, while the krispies offered some light crunchy relief from its creamy richness. I particularly liked digging down into the pot to retrieve the moist morsels of brown sugar cake that had soaked up all of the sweet and slightly tart juices of the blueberries below. I do love goat cheese, but I thought the flavours were a little overkill on the palate and that the dish would have been more enjoyable overall had there been more of the other elements (particularly more krispies) to lighten it up.
So for 2 cocktails (one comped), 3 glasses of wine and 8 dishes, the bill came to about $210 including tax and tip- about $50 more than what we normally spend out but not necessarily outrageous. In general, I would say that while the drinks, atmosphere, and service were not necessarily anything to get super excited about, the food was unpretentious, flirty but sophisticated and well composed. Nothing was necessarily mind-blowingly, and some dishes were better than others, but everything I put in my mouth was tasty- much more than I can say for many other meals I’ve had. With a menu as remarkably extensive as Izard's, I will definitely try to get back some time to check out the other fare. Thank you G&G for an incredible kick off to our weekend away!