Progressive Dinner on Chicago’s Randolph Street

I’m finally out of the Southwest! And in Chicago for a little less than a week, predictably crazed as I try to see all my friends and eat the entire city.

This post is a thursday throw back to 2014 during the polar vortex when the Chicago river looked like this

Chicago River polar vortex

And my friends Corey, Matt, Rob and I did a progressive dinner on Randolph Street along with Cardboard Ryan. I look insane or super excited…

Progressive Dinner Chicago 2014

The original Progressive Dinner group is Corey, Matt, Ryan and me but Ryan couldn’t make Chicago so we created a cardboard cutout o bring along with us so he wouldn’t miss anything. You want an interesting big city experience? Try bringing along a cardboard cutout as a dining companion. Photo ops for days!

I’ve written about Progressive Dinners before and described them as the perfect solution to an excess of restaurant options with a minimum of time. Why eat three courses at one place when you can eat at three places? Or five?

We’ve now had progressive dinners in New York, Chicago, Atlanta, New Orleans, Dallas, San Francisco and Zurich. If I were a really responsible blogger I’d have written about all of them. Clearly that hasn’t happened. But over these years of eating and drinking (a lot), we’ve argued (a lot) about how Progressive Dinners actually work and last summer in Zurich we sat down and tried to hammer out Progressive Dinner rules, written very officially on the back of a coaster. The conversation went something like this…

Kaitlyn: first rule is “start early.”

Matt: Second rule is the first course has to be champagne or something sparkly.

Corey: Is there a rule about beverages? Do they have to be alcoholic?

Matt: the first one has to be sparkly.

Ryan: just because we’ve had something sparkly at the last two dinners, doesn’t mean it’s a rule.

Kaitlyn: let’s call it a trend.

Corey: Second rule, one course at each restaurant.

Matt: third rule: one course has to be tapas.

Corey: no it doesn’t, we don’t always have tapas.

Matt: but we mostly have. New Orleans, New York, Chicago…

Ryan: but we don’t have to.

Kaitlyn: Ok, tapas is a trend. Not a rule.

Ryan: Third rule: one person is in charge of each dinner. Not Matt.

Matt: What?!

Ryan: kidding! You can be in charge. As long as there’s something sparkly and some tapas.

Matt: there needs to be a photobooth so we can take pictures.

Kaitlyn: Can we start a new coaster called “Matt’s Trends?”

Ryan: Fourth rule, Matt doesn’t get to make rules.

Don’t you just want to have dinner with us as we eat all night and argue?

Basically the Progressive Dinner rules came down to these:

1. The number of restaurants in a dinner is only limited to how much you can eat in a given night.

2. Chips and salsa is a course and woe betide the dinner planner that omits this course.

3. Every dinner course has to have a drink pairing, sparkly or otherwise.

I will say that walking between restaurants is preferred since there’s so much eating and drinking and I heartily advise that you start early because everything takes longer than you think.

I planned Progressive Dinner Chicago 2014 and picked a series of restaurants on Randolph Street because it’s all very walkable and most of Chicago’s solid fantastic restaurants are centered here right now.

Progressive Dinner Chicago 2014

We started at my favorite cocktail bar in all of Chicago, Aviary

Aviary Chicago

Swanky fancy cocktails with spectacular presentation, like “In the Rocks” where the booze comes inside an ice ball. The server places a slingshot over the top of the glass, one snap of the rubber band and the ice breaks, creating drink on the rocks.

Aviary Chicago

Brilliant. Aviary gets more online chatter than any other cocktail bar in Chicago, with good reason; so I won’t go on and on here but I highly recommend a visit if you’re in Chicago. Make reservations, bring a camera and plan to hang out for awhile. It’s totally worth the time and the money.

RM Champagne Salon was stop #2

RM Champagne Salon

For oysters and sparkly drinks (just for Matt!) as well as lobster deviled eggs, which were divine. Deviled eggs are slowly sliding out of restaurant fashion – overtaken by cauliflower, me thinks – but I’ve enjoyed every creamy spicy sensational bite I’ve had across the nation this past year. Some time on a slow news day I’ll post a deviled egg retrospective. Aren’t you looking forward to that?

Anyway, RM is a cozy brick walled intimate space, perfect for romantic dates… or as course #2 with 4 people and a cardboard cutout. Wherever you might be in life.

Course #3 was supposed to be de cero but… it was closed.

I know. Progressive Dinner fail! And trust me, I’ll never hear the end of it. I neglected to photograph the outrage so you’ll just have to imagine it. Cardboard Ryan got particularly pouty…

Moving on to Course #4, Avec, another of my favorite places in the city

Avec chorizo stuffed dates

The restaurant looks like Ikea designers were cut loose in a closet and instructed to only use blond wood and straight lines, but the chorizo-stuffed medjool dates wrapped in bacon (above) are the stuff of Chicago food legend. Magic spicy sweet crispy roasted bites of heaven. My mouth literally waters as I type. I also highly recommend the whipped brandade with garlic bread, crunchy flat bread with oozy melted salty potatoes that just might change your life.

We drank a lot of wine and my friend Rob joined us

Progressive Dinner Chicago 2014

And then we progressed to course #5, Randolph Street’s piece de resistance Girl and the Goat

Girl and the Goat

Also my favorite Cardboard Ryan photo op of the evening. I’ve written about Girl and the Goat before and I took better pictures then so I won’t repeat myself. Suffice it to say that the food is still splendid, reservations are still needed and order the pig face. Really.

Post Girl and the Goat we ran into problems of time with my planned nightcap location, so instead of Maude’s we went to Lone Wolf

Lone Wolf

Where they mix really good brown liquor cocktails and offer a drink called Zombie Dust.

After Lone Wolf it had already been a long evening of drinks and hilarity so why we felt like we needed yet another nightcap is beyond me. I think it was Cardboard Ryan’s idea

Berkshire Room

But it was the Berkshire Room, conveniently situated in the bottom floor of our hotel. I guess that made a demented drunken amount of sense. Plus Cardboard Ryan never passes up a photo op with a pretty girl. I’m gonna say that one nightcap was probably enough and it was good we were already home by that point.

6 hours, 6 courses, 4 humans and 1 cardboard cutout. And so concluded Progressive Dinner Chicago 2014 on Randolph Street! Long night, great eats and some of the best company anywhere.

Matt and Cardboard Ryan

More Chicago tomorrow!



Girl and the Goat

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

Girl and the Goat

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

Girl and the Goat

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

Girl and the Goat

Topped with a fish sauce vinaigrette and cashews. Creamy, crunchy, salty. The green beans were perfectly cooked and we ate them with our fingers.

Girl and the Goat

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.

Girl and the Goat

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

Girl and the Goat

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.

Girl and the Goat

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

Girl and the Goat

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.

Girl and the Goat

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.