John Barth allusions notwithstanding, I have begun to think of Stephanie Izard as the post-modern personification of Addephagia, the ancient goddess of gluttony who was especially venerated by the Sicilians. Team Mago has dined at her restaurants four times in the last six months and it is time to admit that my premonition of “this can’t last” delivered in the delirious aftermath of our first visit was absolutely dead freakin’ wrong. Not only that, but Patti and I are in rare agreement that—following a moveable 12-month gastronomic orgy that included Barcelona, Rome, London, New Orleans, Seattle, and Chicago—Izard is our favorite chef in this spiral arm of the galaxy.
Girl and the Goat
Address: 809 West Randolph Street, Chicago IL 60607— Get directions
Telephone: (312) 492-6262
Hours of operation: Sun.- Thurs.: 4:30PM-11:00PM; Fri.-Sat.: 4:30PM-12:00AM
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On our way to Europe last March we had several hours to kill in Chicago while switching from Amtrak’s Empire Builder to The City of New Orleans, so we walked over to Girl and the Goat for a beer and a snack. Entranced as usual by the food, I decided to see if I could book the “chef’s table” for our return trek in July. It turned out that they had just experienced a cancellation for that particular Sunday at 5 PM. Every other shot at this perch was of course booked until the sun burns out (roughly 5 billion years from now).
Even though the hostess assured me that I had secured the best seats in the enormous space of Chef Izard’s dining emporium, I nursed my doubts until late July when the same young lady greeted us and immediately whisked Team Mago to a couple of what the website describes as “four seats close enough to the kitchen line that you might be asked to help.” Caveat Caenator: these four seats are not created equal. I made sure that I reserved the two on the right (adjacent the flame tops) that are much better than those on the left, which are rather remote from the action.
While one has to endure elevated bar seats for a long meal, the rewards are significant. You sit less than a yard away from 11 line cooks in constant motion. The cooks near us were very congenial, offered suggestions, and gave us freebies throughout the meal. Eugenio was the best, very friendly, never too busy to answer a question, and he actually initiated conversation many times throughout our meal.
The expeditress on our side of the pass was incredibly cool, professional, and hot in a Marian the Librarian kind of way. While the mostly male line cooks bantered with her as she called out the tickets and demanded pick-ups, it was clear that she was very much in charge and not above instilling a little fear into the operation to move things at the pace she required. The fact that this huge restaurant continues to crank out great food (it was packed at 5 PM on a Sunday), not to mention changing and improving the dishes with the seasons, is an incredible testimony to Izard’s organizational and personnel skills, given all the other projects she is pursuing. The wait staff is great too. Our server Gary was attentive without being ever-present, and when he got a bunch of other tables going he sent over a colleague to make sure we were doing OK (as if!).
Since we were going to watch her food get made, it was only reasonable that we drink Chef Izard’s wine while doing so. The G&G label is a blend of 50% petit verdot, 25% cabernet franc, and 25% cabernet sauvignon from Saviah Cellars in Walla Walla, Washington. Sample barrel tastings are shipped to Girl and the Goat where Izard and her sommelier choose the blend that is then bottled. The wine we had was very good. It began with a delicate nose of violets and rose petals. The mid-palate fruit was like eating a tart of mixed red and black berries. The finish was very long with meaty/leathery notes. Does one need to add that the wine pairs perfectly with Chef Izzard’s food?
We began with complementary Kohlrabi salad; composed of crunchy thin-shaved kohlrabi with oak leaf lettuce, blue berries, olives, slivered almonds, and some kind of umami thing going on in the ginger dressing.
The salad accompanied fried pickles with yuzu harissa and shallot aioli. It was probably the weakest dish of the evening but still good. The pickles were in much larger chunks than I have ever had in this type of preparation, which detracted from their being perfectly fried in a light tempura like batter. The yuzu harissa and shallot aioli were both good, but the harissa one was way too mild.
Fried duck tongues: my fave. The duck tongues were simply dredged in tapioca starch and then expertly frialatored. The other ingredients in the form of tuna and black bean poke, crispy wontons, and piri piri really pulled the dish together around the chunks o’crunchy duckage.
Sweet corn goat cheese wantons displayed very subtle wonderful summer flavors with just the right amount of acid. The accompanying ratatouille had a great underlying unctuous mouthfeel offset by a huge hit of mint. A sprinkling of popped corn added a kinky textural note.
We snarfed the wantons along with “corny goat bread”, which turned out to be a small boule with goat cheese butter and fresh corn relish, really good. So why do Americans complain so vociferously on so-called social media (even in European restaurants) about having to pay for bread? Izard’s efforts to introduce the coperto to post-modern dining deserve applause. Man-up and pay for decent bread foodies!!
Patti would not touch the linguis anates but she loved the diver scallops with pumpkin brandade, fried brussels sprouts, spiced pecans, and pomegranate. Actually she would probably have happily pitched the scallops, which were perfectly cooked by the way, and eaten her body weight in the Brussels sprouts and pecans.
For reasons of hedonistic excess, I must have the goat belly confit every time I eat at G&G. The burbon butter sauce was new since I last had it and in addition to the lobster makes this preparation more of a carnivore’s dessert than a main course.
Patti, who does not like confit preparations, any kind of belly cut, or lobster (still haven’t figured that one out in 30-plus years) agreed with me that this dish would pair superbly with a Pantescan passito as a prelude to the killer bacon-themed dessert proper we enjoyed later (see below).
We tried to be done swilling at this point,but the line cooks were having none of it. They just kept shoving food over the counter at us until we begged for mercy. First came sautéed green beans, fried onions, and cashews with a fish sauce vinaigrette. They were to die for; superbly cooked but the fish sauce vinaigrette makes the dish special while the fried onions and cashews play beautiful supporting notes.
Shisu peppers followed and received the coveted MagoGuide BTB (Better Than Barcelona) award. Chef Izzard’s take on Pimentos di Padron with parmesan, sesame, and miso shows off her fusion chops as well as her locavore sourcing acumen. Brava ragazza!!
It was “one thin wafer” time when the complementary crunchilicious dessert showed up in the form of miso-butterscotch budino with bacon toffee, glazed pineapple and candied cashews, which was meaty, fruity, creamy, and yummy all at once. Next time I am going to being a bottle of passito and pay the corkage fee to pair it with this dish and the goat belly.
Here are some more photos to enjoy:
Little Goat Diner
Address: 820 W Randolph St., Chicago IL 60607— Get directions
Telephone: (312) 888-3455
Hours of operation: Diner Sun.-Wed: 7AM-11PM, Thurs.-Sat.:7AM to 1AM; LGBread every day from 6AM-6PM; Bar food & Drinks every day from 6AM-2AM
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This month (November 2013) Team Mago was once again pleasantly stranded in Chicago by Amtrak scheduling and we decided to try the Little Goat Diner, conveniently located across Randolph Street from its big sister. If the joint is open you can get anything off any menu: breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner all day long. The problem with this flexibility, when combined with Chef Izard’s diner cuisine, is that the place is always packed.
The drill is first come first served, so what you end up doing in practice is getting your name on the list and then the hostess texts you when your table is ready. I wondered, but did not inquire, as to the process for those unequipped with a cell phone. There may be not be anyone in Chicago that matches such a description, or this might be the basis for a bizarre niche market class action law suit. I hope for my and Chef Izard’s sake that we never find out.
For those without a cell phone or who need a shot of who hit Joe to begin the recovery process from a recent but hazy period of overindulgence, try the bar which is located in a separate room that houses the barrista station, the bakery, and the gift shop. Little Goat does not take reservations at the bar either, but you can get anything off the menu there and outside of the usual drinking hours the chairs turn a lot faster than the tables do in the diner proper.
After a mammoth meal at Table 52 the night before, I was definitely headed toward a few sides and glass of beer before we decamped for Union Station. But as soon as I saw the Goat Almighty burger, I knew that it was my destiny. Although the beast proved to be almost uncomfortably way too much food and nearly impossible to eat short of dislocating one’s mandible, it turned out to be the right thing to do.
The foundation for the burger is a 1/3-pound goat patty from Kilgus Farmstead. The grind is just a tad course providing great texture as well as flavor. I ordered mine medium rare and it was perfect. On top of the goat comes killer braised beef that is in turn surmounted by quite decent barbecued pork shoulder. The mound o’meat then serves as infrastructure for pickled jalapeños followed by superb onion rings, which are also lightly pickled before they are fried. Salsa verde and melted cheddar comprise the summit of Mons Capra, itself enclosed in a Bavarian pretzel dough bun. Halfway through rather than make a fool of myself proposing to Chef Izard (especially since we are both married, her fairly recently—congratulations Chef), I immediately declared to all and sundry that MagoGuide was giving the dish our BBE (best burger ever) endorsement.
Patti was far more sensible. She ordered fish tostadas, an in-your-face challenge to chain Mexican “restaurants” made with crisp fried whitefish, Izard’s somewhat ubiquitous shallot aioli, and served with a chickpea and onion salad dressed with harissa vinaigrette. In my humble opinion—and to this day I will never know how I managed to taste it after consuming a metric ton of goat, pig, and cow—this preparation was very good yet marred with a very unusual flaw that I had picked up on in July. Chef Izard and I definitely have very different ideas of what constitutes good harissa. She either uses a bland product or does not use enough of a spicey one. There just is not enough burn or North Africaness to her harissa preparations and this serves to diminish the dishes in which she employs this wonderful pepper paste.
That one nit to the side, she continues to be MagoGuide’s nomination for American Archimagieros and we will definitely be back to visit all the outposts in her growing (and expensively accessorized—spend your money on her food and avoid the gift shop) culinary empire.
Here are some more photos to enjoy:
Mago tip: Reserve the “chef’s table”, which is really two bar seats at either end of the pass that divides the kitchen from the dinning area. Be sure to get the seats on the right side adjacent the flame tops, much better than those on the left that are removed from the action.