Considering that Adam took over 130 pictures of London restaurants we ate at, it was only natural that we start chronicling our thoughts and opinions about the food we eat. We've totally become accidental foodies. It all started out when Sheila started calling Adam "the human trash compactor"; since he eats almost anything. But somewhere along the way we started having discussions about food and seeking out culinary adventures when on travel. We bring a unique perspective to this arena as we're both vegetarians (no meat, poultry, or fish). I suspect we will both have varying opinions on the food, and hope to not only have a record for posterity, but provide some fun, useful if not amateur insight.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

chicago’s girl & the goat - did it live up to the hype?

Located in the West Loop along Randolph’s restaurant corridor, Girl & the Goat is Stephanie Izard’s culinary heaven. Yes, she was the Season Four winner of Top Chef and her restaurant, open since 2010, has received several favorable local and national reviews. But would Sheila and I be impressed (remember our lukewarm reviews from SF’s Frances and NYC’s Devi)? YES!

Let’s just say Girl & the Goat is not easy to get in to. A couple of weeks before our trip to Chicago for a family weeding, I decided to try making reservations and was politely told that the next available table was in November! Instead we decided to walk in on a beautiful summer 85 degree Wednesday evening. Given its location, Girl & the Goat is quite a large space with a large bar and lounge area on one side and formal dining area on the other. The open plan kitchen sits at the back. In look and feel, the interior was very reminiscent of the Mission’s Beratta (upscale yet casual hipster) – dark distressed woods, Edison-inspired lamps, leather chairs, copper accents, and granite counters.

We walked up to the bar, ordered some drinks, and decided to stalk patrons seated at the counter hoping that seats would open up. You could tell the friendly mid-west attitude right away, as the bartender spotted me from afar and promptly took our order. Then 15 minutes later a young hostess came up to us and asked if we’d like to be seated. She was looking for a “nice” couple to sit at the bar counter that just opened up. I call it good omens during Sheila’s birthday week! Let the food experience begin. The menu is broken out in three sections – Veggies, Meats, and Fish. Each dish is served tapas style; our waitress noted that two dishes per patrons were about right. Being vegetarian we stuck to the left side of the menu and decided on five overall dishes, including dessert.

Not Campbell’s Bread – broccoli-cheese country loaf served with tomato soup oil and mushroom soup butter. Sounds like a weird combination, right? The warm loaf, infused with cheddar cheese, comes off a salty on first bite. However, that tapers off as soon as the fresh broccoli hits your palate. This was a wonderful and unique take on the normal table bread. The tomato soup oil (olive oil, red onions, garlic, white wine, parmesan cheese, and tomatoes) is used as a spread. Although decent, both of us felt that the olive oil and cheese added a bit too much richness for our taste. The mushroom soup butter (butter, shallots, garlic, thyme, cream, vinegar, and mushrooms) is also used as a spread. We preferred this spread over the tomato one, because the mushrooms and spices add another layer of earthiness. A perfect way to start our meal, we’d order this dish again.

Kohlrabi Salad – fennel, queso de mano, toasted almonds, blueberries, and ginger dressing. This was a wonderfully fresh dish bursting with savory and sweet elements. The fennel provided a clean base for the other ingredients, but it was not lost. The salty queso and ginger dressing were simply balanced by the sweet ripened blueberries and earthy textured almonds. I would have never thought to combine these elements into a dish. Light and crisp, this was a great palate cleanser before our more heavy dishes.

Roasted cauliflowers – pickled peppers, pine nuts, mint, and cauliflower. This was another savory dish that had a great kick of fresh mint. The pine nuts gave an added bite (crunchiness) to what could have been a soft textured dish. The vinegar-infused peppers were actually not overpowering and provided a nice tangy balance. I felt that the cauliflower took on the flavors of the other elements, meaning it was lost in the dish. All in all though, a solid vegetarian dish.

Chickpea Fritters – eggplant & tomato caponata, rich soft mozzarella, fresh chickpeas, and deep fried chickpea cubes. The chickpea cubes (a la thick cut fries) were very fluffy with a smooth texture. The caponata and mozzarella brought back flavors of Italy, while still holding true to the chickpea’s Mediterranean roots. Both the caponata and mozzarella were extremely fresh and seasoned perfectly. The fresh chickpeas, sprinkled on top, were unusual to see and added some solidness to the dish. In comparison to a similar dish we had a SF’s Frances, the Girl & the Goat version blows it away! The components the accompanied the actual fritters were the main stars, which was fine by us!

Chocolate cake with shitake gelato – bittersweet chocolate cake, shitake gelato, toffee, and crème fraiche. The dish had undertones of savory throughout; in fact it was more earthy than anything else. The crumbled bittersweet chocolate cake was placed on top of a layer of crème fraiche and toffee bits. Eaten separately these two ingredients would have been extremes, but together they were very balanced – yin and yang. The gelato was interesting, rich and creamy without being overly sweet.

Girl & the Goat definitely lived up to its hype. The food was fresh and inventive without being pretentious; the ambiance was warm and inviting; and the scene was SF-esque hipster. Sheila and I felt like this was one Chicago restaurant that we would not only recommend, but would come back to. If you can’t get a reservations, simply show up and wait for a seat at the bar counter. It’s worth it.

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