I love birthday meals. No matter how jaded you become about ageing another year it always feels special to be able to go out and celebrate the passing of time with friends and family. When I found out we would be in the Windy City for the Ewing's special day, I set about finding somewhere to mark the occasion. Despite being almost overwhelmed with great dining possibilities, one place that kept cropping up during my search was The Girl and the Goat.
For the uninitiated The Girl and the Goat is a über trendy restaurant run by Top Chef winner Stephanie Izzard. For those of us across the pond the name probably doesn't mean too much, but even now, two years after opening, this place is still smoking hot and booked solid. Now normally I'm quite happy not to mingle with the beautiful people, and consciously avoid anything too hip and cool, but with a regularly changing menu of goat inspired treats, bacon fat gelato, ham frites and creative cocktails, it looked the perfect choice.
Being unusually organised I managed to snag a Friday night reservation (made three months to the day in advance), but even then there were only 5.30 or 10.00 time slots available. I chose the earlier sitting, (we would be arriving from NY, and probably still jet-lagged from our UK flight, meaning it would feel much later anyway), and excitedly began to cross off the next 92 days.
The menu follows the 'small plate' formula, the choices arranged into veg, meat and fish, with another separate menu for bread, oysters and goat based dishes. Two to three dishes are recommended per person, which meant the only real trouble we had was narrowing down what to have.
The 6th Borough. Ingredients: alcohol, alcohol, alcohol. This was one of those fancy highball cocktails that makes you feel like you're in Mad Men as you're drinking it (but look more like you're sucking on a lemon). According to the website it contained Plymouth Dry Gin; Luxardo Maraschino; Amaro Nonino and Dolin Dry Vermouth. It tasted burny, in the best possible way, and kicked things off nicely.
A bread service is offered at four bucks a pop. If that seems a little mean then consider that there is a separate bread menu, with each type being generously portioned and accompanied by its own accoutrement's. I was torn between the pretzel bread with beer butter, bread served with 'not Campbells' tomato and mushroom butters and, our eventual choice, the aMAIZEing bread, served with romesco mole and avocado yogurt.
The bread was warm and crumbly, and contained a seam of basil butter that soaked into the friable corn crumb. The dips seemed almost superfluous, but it seemed rude not to eat them, the fiery, smoky mole being perfectly tempered by the cool, grassy avocado yogurt.
Pinn Oaks lamb tartare, English pea tapenade, tuna aioli, water crackers. I was excited to try this, but also a little scared of the idea of chunks of raw lamb suspended in a fishy dressing. It turned out to be far less worrying than I imagined; a rather delicate, and quite lovely combination.The addition of the peas lifted the gamey, salty flavours and the home made water crackers were perfectly crisp and delicate.
Pan fried shishito peppers Parmesan, sesame and miso. I wanted to get at least a few veggies in to our meal and had read that the peppers were supposed to be very good. Shisito peppers are a (mostly) sweet Japanese pepper, very similar to the Spanish padron. Here they had been blistered over a high heat to give them a lovely charred edge, but instead of the more familiar rock salt and olive oil garnish they had been doused in an extremely moreish Parmesan and miso dressing. This East meets West combo was sweet, salty with those lovely gooey, crispy bits where the dish had been flashed under the grill. Unusual and delicious.
Diver scallops, braised duck, marcona almond butter, green papaya and green almond nuoc cham. An interesting take on surf and turf with a South East Asian twist. The Scallops were gigantic; seared on the outside and perfectly snow white and wobbly in centre; the fatty duck complementing the crisp, tart shreds of papaya.
Confit goat belly, bourbon butter, lobster n' crab, fennel. There had to be some goat on the menu and this dish seemed like the proper choice for a celebration. Although it might have sounded like a rather challeging combination yet again everything fitted together like a perfect culinary jigsaw. The goat was rather like a decent piece of pork belly, with that deep, slightly funky taste, and the sweetness lobster and crab was coaxed out by the river of bourbon butter thay were wallowing in. The fennel and salad freshened everything up with a subtle aniseed twist.
We followed our mains with a triple hircine hit of goat's cheese cake topped with a goat bavaroise, cajeta (goat caramel) and candied beets. The Ewing called this out as being just the right side of 'goaty' but I must confess I found the farmyard flavours pretty mild and undistinguished, with the sweetness of the beets and cajeta nicely complementing the fluffy bavavoise and, slightly denser, cheesecake. I usually find 'deconstucted cheesecakes' a bit of a let down, but after all the food consumed before this I was glad to see the biscuit crumbs were restricted to a light scattering on the side.
While in the States we ate huge amount of really very good food, but I still wanted to make room to dedicate a post to this meal on the blog. Not only was both the food and drink great, the service charming (one of the waiters was having a good old banter with the Ewing), and the atmosphere perfect for the occasion, but, as I mentioned above, celebratory meals always feel special. Although she's normally a little shy I couldn't resist posting a photo of the birthday girl herself. Here's to many more years to come.