I love Top Chef.
There are very few TV shows that I watch with any regularity, mostly because I don’t have a TV and because I got out of the prime time habit while I was on tour but I always download Top Chef (and Grey’s Anatomy. Don’t judge.). So when I heard that season 4 winner, Stephanie Izard, opened Girl and the Goat in Chicago, I had to check it out.
This restaurant opened a year and a half ago and it’s still really difficult to get a table. This usually means the food is good. I tried to get reservations but it was booked for weeks and I only had one night off during my three week stay here. However, I knew that the restaurant kept some tables open for walk-ins so I figured I’d show up and take my chances. With only one night off, other people might pick an activity with a guaranteed success ratio but I chose to spend mine at a popular restaurant waiting as long as necessary for a table. No one who knows me is surprised by this.
I got very lucky with my dinner companion because Mark is an old friend of mine who I adore and rarely see plus he’s in the food business and he knew a server at Girl and the Goat. So he called Marnie and she recommended we come early and promised to make sure we got seated in her section so she could take care of us.
It was a dark and rainy wednesday night and while the restaurant was crowded and busy, it only took us an hour to get seated, an hour we happily spent drinking wine and catching up.
When Marnie showed up she asked some preliminary questions about food allergies, dislikes and our desired adventure level (none, none and high) and then offered to choose our food for us. Yes please! If there’s anything I love more than eating at a great restaurant, it’s eating the best things that restaurant has to offer and tasting as many things as possible. Marnie said she’d create a tasting menu for us, ask the chefs to make mini portions of some things so we could try more dishes and check in after several courses to see how many more we thought we could handle. Did we want wine? Of course. Did we want her to do some wine pairings? Yes! And maybe we could share some wine portions so we could try more wine options as well? Awesome.
We handed over our menus (a copy of which I had to get later because I didn’t even look at it) and each said “I LOVE eating like this!” about 3 times apiece with escalating levels of excitement.
First course was my favorite, though I would have ordered it for the name alone: Fried Naked Cowboys
Crispy fried oysters atop egg salad and capers. Smooth, creamy, crunchy, crispy mouthfuls of deliciousness. I’d go back just for these.
Second course: hiramasa crudo
Yellowtail amberjack sashimi, crispy pork belly, chili aioli and caper berries. The crunchy croutons and bitter sprouts were a perfect sensory accompaniment.
Third course: Sauteed green beans and grilled seppia
Topped with a fish sauce vinaigrette and cashews. Creamy, crunchy, salty. The green beans were perfectly cooked and we ate them with our fingers.
with sea beans, smoked tomatoes, hazelnut parsnip puree and bonito flakes that waved like tiny fingers with the air currents. I hadn’t had cuttlefish before but it was tender and chewy like really good squid (no surprise).
Fourth course: kohlrabi salad and braised beef tongue.
I didn’t get any good pictures of the salad. As you can tell from the rest of the pics, the low light made it difficult to for my camera to focus.
Beef tongue with masa chips and a delicious thick salsa verde at the bottom.
Around about this dish I realized a theme with Girl and the Goat’s food, namely that it grew on me the longer I ate it. I’d have one bite and think it was ok or interesting, a second bite was delicious and by the third bite I wanted to bat Mark’s fork out of the way and eat the whole thing myself. The flavors and textures layered in my mouth and each bite was better than the last, quite the opposite of the “first bite is the best” case with most good food in my experience.
Fifth course: Sugo
Pappardelle with braised beef, goat and pork, rosemary and pickled gooseberries. Pickled gooseberries? Seriously? Bonkers delicious. And the pasta was cooked perfectly.
We had fun experimenting with camera shots and this was one of my favorites.
Post-pasta Marnie said she had a couple more courses in mind and asked if we were slowing down. We said, bring it.
Fifth course: Grilled pork ribs
Sous vide first so the meat was falling off the bone and then charred on the grill for a crusty exterior and served over a mushroom slaw with a grilled scallion vinaigrette. We abandoned all sense of decorum and gnawed the meat off the bone and licked our fingers, which totally delighted Marnie when she caught us.
Ribs again for the Sixth course: kalbi style beef ribs
Again no good photographs but a completely different rib experience served with sweet potato and okra. I loved the meat so much that I traded Mark my potato for his last rib and scarfed down every little chewy bit of meat.
I could have kept eating. We both could have. But it seemed the course of wisdom not to explode into gooey pieces all over the restaurant so we opted for a couple dessert options and some cheese.
They were both good but I don’t remember many details. One was a donut flavored with butternut squash and cheddar cheese, served with pears (?) cornmeal streusel and some kind of gelato and the other was red and had pecans. How’s that for specifics? The cheese tasted like horses in a barnyard, in the most delicious way, and threw Mark into equestrian ecstasies prompting many stories of his recent riding adventures.
We did have wine. It was great. I have no idea what it was. This is why I write things down! I can only remember so many details.
All in all, highly recommended both for the food, the company, the service and the experience.
If you’re in Chicago, get your Goat on and ask for Marnie.