What is it that makes a new restaurant “hot?”
Case-in-point, The Girl and the Goat, spearheaded by Stephanie Izard, celebrity chef and winner of Bravo’s Top Chef a few seasons ago.
The restaurant opened last summer on Randolph St, in the heart of Chicago’s West Loop restaurant row, and it has been slammed ever since. A glance at opentable says you can’t get a reservation later than 4:30 pm through August and they’re not taking reservations past August. It appears to be booked pretty solid from the opening bell until 1 am.
Stephanie has her own website, nearly 16,000 followers on twitter, and a Facebook fan page. Based on her tweets, she’s got a head on her shoulders but keeps things light (“its ‘fun with sharpies day’ today here at girl & the goat”) which is either a reflection of her personality, a way to keep her sanity, or really smart marketing – or all of the above.
We first met Stephanie about 10 years ago at Scylla, her former fish restaurant in our neighborhood. The place was good and she noticeably spent a lot of her time interacting with customers in the “front of the house”. We didn’t know then that she was going to become a national celebrity on TC and win over viewers with both her creative, beautifully-prepared food and her warmth and friendliness. But we loved watching her on the show and were thrilled when she won.
Since then, we’ve run into Stephanie dozens of times at the Chicago’s Green City Market. She always had a friendly smile for us and we have been tempted to follow her around to the purveyors she patronizes (“I’ll have what she’s having.”).
She’s a celebrity. She’s a local girl. She’s young and attractive. She’s a brilliant chef. She’s got a great smile. She was on my TV. Let’s face it, Fellow FoodBeest, I am totally star-struck.
And, I guess like lots of others, we were waiting eagerly for Girl and the Goat to open. So a couple of moths ago, when we got reservations for Mr. FB’s birthday, we were pretty excited.
And with good reason.
We arrive a little early for our 6:30 pm reservation and were invited to sit at the bar for a drink until our table was ready. There is a good wine list and a comprehensive beer/ale list, but a very small selection in mixed drinks, and nothing that really interested me. Slight disappointment, but no real problem, really, a nice glass of grassy white wine was fine.
Looking around, it’s early June and the sun is still streaming through the windows. The place is young, smartly casual with people dressed in jeans and flip-flops – all the way on up though jackets and ties. I was a little overdressed – having lost 20 lbs in the last 3 months, I don’t have a lot that fits and so I chose a dress with a matching jacket. I hoped I was toning it down with heeled sandals.
The open kitchen in the back of the restaurant is clearly being presided over by Top Chef Stephanie, herself, who expedites everything that comes out of it.
The menu is divided into categories:
“V” for vegetable dishes, “F” for fish (and anything else that swims or lives in the water), and “M” for meat. A second menu offers “bread,” “oysters,” and, of course, “goat.”
The staff is young, upbeat knowledgeable and helpful. Our waitress was wonderful in guiding us though the menu.
“With just two of you,” she said, “don’t order the bread. It’ll fill you up too much,”
“Get either the fried oyster or the grilled oyster.”
“I can get you a plate with a trio of vegetables, so you don’t have to choose.”
It was Mr. FB’s birthday so he did all the ordering. I had to bite my tongue here, Fellow FoodBeest. I do have my opinions and point-of-view.
We started with fried oysters on a bed of egg salad in an oyster shell. I love fried oysters and these were good, but will not live forever in my great silver box of ridiculously fabulous food.
He ordered lamb tartar. I had a concern that raw lamb would be gamey and unpleasantly strong. Glad he did. It arrived in a glass ramekin, coarsely chopped, mildly seasoned and lightly tossed with oil. It was topped with an English pea tapenade and served with flatbread. It was excellent. And I don’t like peas. At least that’s what I thought before this dish.
The trio of vegetables included green beans and roasted cauliflower and whole, grilled and blistered Japanese shishito peppers. Picked up by their little stems, shishito peppers are a perfectly simple seasonal summer mouthful. They are about two inches long, both sweet and slightly hot, with thin skins.
Note to self: find shishito peppers and cook them at home! Nothing to it – fry in a little olive oil, salt and serve. We’ll see if the FoodBeest can recreate those.
Fellow FoodBeest, I roast cauliflower and green beans all the time (last night, in fact). Roasting is one of my favorite ways to cook veggies, but I am no Top Chef, and whatever it was that Stephanie and her crew did to these took them to a level they have never seen in my lowly kitchen. Highly, highly recommended.
A wild sockeye salmon topped with sautéed spinach and a ramp sauce was good (well, the ramp sauce was amazing), but overall, not all that special.
What comes next is not for the squeamish. So if you go euww, yuck, gag-gag easily, stop here.
We also had Stephanie’s signature “Pig Face.” I had heard about this. She takes the meat from around the face of a pig – jowls, cheeks, upper head even, and wraps it around the tongue (I know. I know.) and roasts the whole thing. The picture in my head was this huge head of pig coming to the table on a big white platter, Lord of the Flies style. And more than a little trepidation.
What we actually got was a small crispy disk of perfectly cooked pork with a tiny disk of tongue in the center, topped with a fried egg.
Desserts were a pig-fat fried doughnut with blackberries and vanilla ice cream (I mean, seriously!) and a parfait made up of rhubarb and lemon shortcake with buttermilk panna cotta, lemon gelato and, topped with (OMG) salted graham cracker crumbs (why didn’t anyone think of that before?)
My overall impression was that this place was worth the hype and the crowds, but at the Girl and the Goat, the farther off the beaten path you go in ordering, the more delightful the results.
Now it’s your turn, Fellow FoodBeest, what’s on your mind? Do foodie celebs turn you on? What delights you – or disturbs you – when you meet celebs in your life? Please share whatever is on your mind. We love it!