Girl and the Goat

809 West Randolph Street, Chicago, Illinois, 60607, United States

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This restaurant, run by Stephanie Izard, opened in the summer of 2010 in the formerly industrial West Loop district,. Ms Izard previously ran her own restaurant called Scylla (now closed) and before that was sous chef at La Tache. She was the first female winner of the TV show “Top Chef”. This is a big operation, and Girl and the Goat can seat 130 diners at capacity. The restaurant's cryptic name is derived from the owner’s surname happening to describe a variety of chamois found in the Pyrenees.  

There are a few tables outside in good weather, as well as a bar area with counter seating and an open kitchen with a wood fired oven visible. On the Monday night that we visited the place was completely packed. As we walked in from the quiet street we were greeted by a wall of sound from the large and busy room, with noisy conversation and 1970s music reverberating from the wooden floor and the hard surfaces of the room. Tables are packed closely together, and you will quickly get to know the people on the neighbouring tables, just inches away from you.

The menu format is notionally "small plates to share" but this being America the portion sizes are huge, so we were never close to finishing the five dishes that it was suggested that we order, and we skipped dessert. The wines are printed on either side of a menu sheet, with bottles such as Zios Albariño 2013 at $48 for a bottle that can be found in the high street for $22, Wild Ridge Pinot Noir 2012 at $90 compared to a retail price of $49, and Storybook Mountain Zinfandel 2010 at $140 for a wine that will set you back $40 in a shop.

Chickpea fritters came with summer squash, yoghurt, sev and green mango, flavoured with garam masala, rosemary, tamarind. The spicing was quite gentle but the fritters were carefully made, the yoghurt a good complement to the spices, and the tamarind adding a touch of sweetness (14/20).

Cauliflower was roasted in the wood oven and came with pickled peppers, pine nuts and a mint sauce. This was terrific, the cauliflower perfectly cooked and with just enough vinegar bite from the pickling, the potentially dominant mint flavour carefully controlled (easily 15/20).

Spring onion pierogies (fried dumplings) came with rhubarb chimichurri (a sauce with parsley, garlic, oregano, olive oil and vinegar). The dumplings were carefully made and the sauce was nicely balanced, enlivening the pierogi (14/20). Sautéed green beans came with cashews and fish sauce vinaigrette. These were just a fraction undercooked through still pleasant, and the vinaigrette was well judged (13/20).

"Pig face" is the restaurant's signature dish. Pork cheek and tongue is rolled into patties, slowly braised in pork stock and then roasted in the wood fired oven. These are topped with potato sticks and a fried egg, flavoured with lime zest and coriander and served with a tamarind vinaigrette and a maple gastrique (sweet and sour sauce). The sweetness from the tamarind and maple was subtle and worked well with the richness of the pork (14/20).

Service was excellent despite the hectic atmosphere, our waiter Calvin managing to faultlessly top up our wine amongst all the noise and bustle around us. The bill came to $88 (£56) per person, with a bottle of the enjoyable Jermann Pinot Grigio ($55 compared to a shop price of $28) and a couple of other glasses of wine to share, but no dessert.  A typical price per head sharing a modest bottle of wine would be about £50. This seems to me good value for what was a most enjoyable meal, the dishes original and skillfully made. It is no wonder that The Girl and The Goat is so popular.

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