I love trying new restaurants, but I’m not one to wait three hours for a table. So I often let a few months pass before trying the latest hot place. This was my strategy over Memorial Day weekend for dining at Stephanie Izard’s Girl & The Goat, which had opened last summer and a visit I’ve been wanting to write about. It was a Sunday. Earlier that day a major thunderstorm blew through the city. Then a heavy fog rolled in. My friend A. and I arrived early for dinner at 6:30 pm. I figured the stars would be aligned in our favor for snagging one of the tables reserved for walk-ins.
Was I wrong. OMG, so wrong. Our jaws dropped when we were told the wait would be an hour and a half. Anyone in Chicago going out for dinner that night seemed to be at G&G already. Stephanie Izard’s Top Chef Season 4 fame makes G&G still very much the go-to restaurant as soon as the doors open at 4:30 pm. You can eat at the huge bar at any time, but those seats fill up fast.
A. did what the situation called for: she ordered champagne and we starting discussing Plan B. We then found two seats in the lounge area and decided to look at the menu to order some apps. Amazingly, the restaurant gods were with us. Fifteen minutes later we were ushered to two open spots at one of the two, large communal tables parallel to the long, open kitchen.
Even if we hadn’t lucked out, the wait is worth it. The dark, cavernous space filled with wood tables and chairs that give G&G a rustic feel is the perfect canvas for Izard’s eclectic, seasonally minded, farm-driven food. She has an incredible talent for combining unlikely Italian, Spanish, Mediterranean, and Southeast Asian ingredients with local foods to present dishes that are creative, bold, and bursting with flavor. The menu is divided into three categories: Vegetables, Fish, and Meat. Dishes are small, lending to ordering several and sharing. Sitting at the communal table let us take full advantage of talking to other people and asking about what they ordered as their dishes arrived. After we got past the food, it was fun finding out where people were from and how they liked Chicago.
G&G bakes its own bread, and servers recommend starting with one of the flatbreads, which arrives warm from the oven on a paddle. To fulfill our curiosity of trying something with goat meat, we chose the goat chorizo flatbread with ramp pesto, rhubarb, and fresh ricotta. An interesting mix of flavors without a strong goaty taste atop a wonderful crust.
Next came green beans sautéed in a fish vinaigrette tossed with cashews, now a signature dish. It’s simple, but has lots of appeal. Grilled baby octopus served as our main dish. Tender octopus prepared with guanciale, wax beans, favas, and radishes, dressed with a pistachio-lemon vinaigrette shows how Izard has a command of ingredients. Wildly good. (Both shown at the top.)
Beautifully charred grilled hanger steak was showing up on many tables. Izard prepares her version with green almond nuoc cham (a Vietnamese condiment based on fish sauce) combined with grilled trumpets and ramps and miso-marcona almonds. It’s probably off the menu by now, by the marinated English pea pods with buttermilk balsamic, botarga (dry, salted mullet roe), and sweet chips shows how the chef orchestrates diverse ingredients.
As delicious as the dishes are, I felt dessert was a letdown. The rhubarb cobbler’s layered composition failed to bring out the lovely melding of a baked cobbler and eating out of the tall jar was difficult. But this was only one dessert. The lively vibe and delicious food at affordable prices will have me coming back again and again. In fact, I’ve already booked a reservation for October.
Girl & The Goat
809 West Randolph Street
Sunday – Thursday, 4:30pm – 11:00pm
Friday – Saturday, 4:30pm – 12:00am