The Girl and the Goat (Restaurant, West Loop)
I make a rule of doing the opposite of whatever reality television says, but I can’t deny that I’m part of the growing trend of people who believe chefs should be celebrities. It’s not because I find their personalities especially spectacular or because I glamorize the grueling repetitive work they do in the kitchen. Rather, it’s simply because I love pushing the limits of my palate. With every chef that becomes a star comes a greater opportunity to deviate from menu norms and create original seasonal dishes. So when I saw Stephanie Izard at her highly anticipated restaurant on a boring Monday evening, she was doing what I expected — working. I never saw her greet a customer or stop for a photo; rather, she was screening every dish that came out of her kitchen for quality control. And while my wallet twitched when the waitress kindly insisted to our party of four that we select nine courses for our meal, I accepted that the chef was calling the shots and me and my palate should just fall in line. I was not disappointed.
I admit that we were a touch overwhelmed at having to order so much so soon, but in the end it was very relaxing to have each item brought out intermittently. The pacing was perfect and we were never overwhelmed by too many dishes of the same category at one time (the categories being vegetarian, fish and meat). My wife and I leap on Wellfleet oysters whenever we see them make an appearance in the Midwest so we began with the fired shell concoctions, but while the cooking changed its texture I’d ultimately have preferred them raw. Some things can’t be improved on. The vegetarian dishes were some of the best of the meal; the shaved kohlrabi salad changed everything I know about kohlrabi (which is nothing). The pig cheeks came out early which was good because towards the end of the meal they’d have been too much — crispy chips on the ends with that tender interior. If the oysters underperformed, then the rest of the shellfish blew my mind. The soft shell crab had an addictive batter that somehow was forced to compete with the fresh corn it was served on. Skate wing seems to be popular right now and I can see why as it just seemed to melt on a bed of chickpeas. Contrasting textures felt like a theme by the time the grilled baby octopus came out on lemonized pistachios. I expected the lamb ribs to be smoky from their charred appearance but the kitchen performed a taste far more subtle while still accomplishing the soft texture of a slow and low cooking. I’ve eaten larger quantities in one sitting but this meal was rich on every note and the goat cheese Bavarian cream dessert did nothing to change that notion.
The interior of the restaurant was sufficiently stylish with its black burned loft look but nothing overdone or indicative of stardom. The wine list looked creatively comprehensive but ultimately I couldn’t fathom trying to pair all these different tiny meals so I stuck to Two Brother’s Cane & Ebel and New Holland’s Dragon’s Milk for dessert. The bill certainly reflected a nine course meal, but by then I was fat and happy. I won’t make any grandiose statements about how this is Chicago’s next Charlie Trotters but I will say Stephanie Izard’s food is even better in person than it looks on television. Anyone who can prepare such a versatile and comprehensively delicious meal is a celebrity in my book.
The Girl and the Goat
809 W Randolph St.