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Review: Girl & the Goat

By Chuck Sudo in Food on Aug 27, 2010 4:00PM

In the two years between winning Top Chef: Chicago and last month's opening of Girl & the Goat on West Randolph, Stephanie Izard has become a bona fide brand: Stephanie Izard, Inc. ®©™. That time was spent crisscrossing the country doing appearances and cooking demonstrations, and hosting underground "Wandering Goat" dinners where the demand for tickets rivaled that of some rock concerts.

Because of Izard's hard work, I'd argue (successfully) that she's one of five local chefs folks ignorant of the local restaurant scene know by name; narrow it down to tv junkies and she's alone with Rick Bayless. With reservations at the Goat booked well into 2011 and a clientele ranging from folks who remember Izard's cooking at Scylla, new converts, foochebags, scenesters and cougars in pencil cocktail dresses, it could be understandable if she wanted to play it safe while posing for pictures and pressing flesh with customers. Some other chefs would.

Izard, however, is a fearless and daring chef. Girl & the Goat serves as both a call to arms to expect the unexpected, a reaffirmation of the skills that brought her to this point, with a touch of the always-ready-for-tv performer she's become. Izard also found the perfect partners in crime in Kevin Boehm and Rob Katz of BOKA Group, who know a good chef when they see one. Boehm and Katz's stable now includes Izard, BOKA's Guiseppe Tentori, Landmark's Kurt Guzowski and Perennial's Ryan Poli.

All those appearances and demonstrations have honed Izard's cooking to military precision. Every dish that comes out of the kitchen is an inventive mélange of flavors and textures, even the ones that don't quite reach perfect pitch. A few of those dishes are instant classics that still have me squealing like a five-year-old on his first bicycle.

Exhibit A: Wood oven roasted pig face. Izard takes what normally would be the part of a pig fashioned into a terrine or guanciale and flips it on its lid, serving it patty style with potato sticks, cilantro and a fried egg. The flavor is rich beyond belief and the dish is plated such that playing with it is almost encouraged. Looking around the restaurant I could see other diners poking at it with forks and fingers before tearing in.

Exhibit B: "Escargot and goat balls." Entendre aside, the balls are not lamb fries, but goat meatballs surrounding escargot in romesco and a spicy bagna càuda, with root vegetables hidden underneath. at times, I forgot the snails were a component of the dish.

Exhibit C: Smoked duck stuffed jumbo prawns. The smoky flavor, courtesy of the wood-fired oven that's the centerpiece of the kitchen, overwhelmed the prawn, but was complemented harmoniously with fresh melon ragout.

Exhibit D: Goat cheese bavaroise and sweet corn nougat. The desserts at Girl & the Goat are masterpieces. Sweet corn nougat, hidden deep inside a mason jar with crumbled bacon a a kiss of sherry vinegar, is gentle like a spring breeze. The bavaroise, served in a crock atop brown sugar cake and blueberries, is one of those desserts worthy of a goodnight kiss.

As I noted earlier, even the dishes I didn't like don't miss their mark by much. Yellow tomato soup with a dollop of yogurt as overwhelmed by fresh vanilla bean, but I could understand what Izard was doing in trying to create an original summer soup. The dishes themselves are all shared plates, all priced to fit budgets.

All of this is happening in one of the most beautiful dining rooms to open up in recent memory. With that wood-fired oven as the centerpiece, you're hit with a wave of smoke and grilled meat upon passing through the restaurant's revolving doors. the room itself looks like a hunting lodge with smoke damage, with Izard the fire keeper, smiling at the gawkers as she expedites orders.

Girl & the Goat. 809 W. Randolph, 312-492-6262