Friday, April 29, 2011

Girl &the Goat

There have been many thousands of words written about Stephanie Izard and her new restaurant, Girl & the Goat, the vast majority of them raving. Most people who know who she is know her as the Season 4 winner of Top Chef though Chef Izard does have a significant history before Top Chef. Born in Evanston, IL and raised in Stamford, CT, she developed a love of food at an early age. Before entering the culinary world, she earned a BS in Sociology from the University of Michigan. Shortly after however, she decided to she had to follow her muse and with her parents blessing, went to Scottsdale Culinary Institute and received a culinary degree. Working her way up in the kitchen she worked at La Tache and as a Sous Chef for Shawn McClain at Spring before opening her first restaurant to critical acclaim, Scylla, in Bucktown which she ran for 3 years before selling to Takashi Nagahashi in 2007 and entering Top Chef. With the help of Rob Katz and Kevin Boehm of the Boka Group, she opened Girl and the Goat last summer and is now in the running for Best New Restaurant from the James Beard Foundation.

I made a reservation to celebrate my birthday with a few people but it was a tough reservation to get so it was a week later. Because it was a tough reservation to get, even though I had several cancellations, I wasn't going to give it up and ended up going by myself. The space is very big and airy feeling with an open kitchen and high ceilings. There is a lot of reclaimed wood on the walls and the furniture and a big flame oven in the kitchen. The restaurant has a nice but not overpowering smell of wood smoke as you walk in.

The menu is divided into 3 sections, Vegetables, Fish, and Meat to designate the major focus of a particular dish. This is a shared plate restaurant so everything is served family style and everything is fairly reasonably priced. I decided that if I wanted to get a feel for the food, I should try something from every section.
For my vegetable course, I went with the Kabocha Squash Ravioli with Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, Shiitake, Trumpet, and Baby Portobello Mushrooms, and Raisin Ragout and a Mushroom Creme Fraiche. It was very good and if I thought I could have gotten away with it, I would have licked my plate and the serving bowl.

My fish course wasn't actually fish and it did have a significant meat element but that was fine. I ordered Lamb Sausage Stuffed Calamari. When I saw it on the menu, I was put in mind of an old Mom and Pop Italian Restaurant near my hometown in Michigan that has since closed down. I remember once seeing veal stuffed calamari on the menu and ordering it with out really knowing what to expect. What I received were the bodies of the squid that were stuffed with meat kind of like big pasta shells. I remember that it was a bit annerving the first time I saw it but it was pretty good. This dish was very similar except that it used lamb instead of veal. Lamb does have a stronger taste than veal and some people do have a philosophical aversion to eating lamb so I could see how someone might not care for it but I like lamb and thought that this was very good.My final non-dessert course could have been a pretty simple dish (in theory) but the complexity added to the dish. The dish was a sugo over pappardelle pasta. Pappardelle is a very broad fettucini and sugo is a traditional Italian sauce using tomato sauce, guanciale, and pecorino cheese. This dish replaced the guanciale with pork, veal, and goat much in excess (there was a lot more meat than sauce) and added yellow cherries. This was a very good dish that I think any meat eater would have liked.At this point, I could have finished and been satisfied but I figured that since I was originally coming for my birthday, I needed to have dessert. I mentioned this to my waitress and found that she was celebrating her birthday on that day. So when she brought my dessert out, it had a lit candle in it. I have mentioned before that I like to challenge myself and if I see something that sounds really weird, I have to try it. I had heard that savories were used in the desserts here and looking over the menu, I saw that was the case. There was something on the dessert menu that employed a savory item in such a way that it sounded so weird that I couldn't pass it up. I don't remember what the main portion of the dessert was called but it was a bittersweet chocolate cake that seemed part lava cake and part brownie. It was served with a shiitake gelato and a salted caramel sauce. It was sweet and very creamy as a gelato should be but it had a very mushroomy aftertaste which would probably have been offputting if I hadn't expected it. Combining it with the cake, it brought a richness and earthiness to it that was very good.

Overall, while I thought that the menu would be difficult for a timid eater, the flavors were excellent. Her food really reminded me of Shawn McClain's food who I think is one of the top innovators in American cuisine today. I will be happy to come back here to share with others if I can manage to get a reservation.

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