Chicago’s restaurant scene is top notch, but among all the amazing restaurants in the city, the most hyped up spot I kept hearing about when I moved here in 2016 was Chef Stephanie Izard’s Girl & The Goat restaurant in the food-centric West Loop neighborhood. Stephanie Izard is best known as the first female chef to win Bravo’s Top Chef and is a recipient of the James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef: Great Lakes in 2013 for her cuisine at Girl & The Goat. More recently she obtained the title of Iron Chef in Food Networks Iron Chef Gauntlet where she beat chefs Bobby Flay, Michael Symon, and Masaharu Morimoto. Her stellar reputation and innovative and flavorful small plates at Girl & The Goat, along with phenomenal food served at her other restaurants including Little Goat Diner and Duck Duck Goat have made her the talk of the town in The Windy City. After dining at Girl & The Goat twice I can say that the hype is no joke!
Not only is the food beautifully plated, but the interior of the restaurant is quite stunning. The restaurant is dimly lit and totally open with exposed brick and wood ceilings that make for a stylish yet rustic ambience that’s perfect for a date night. A highlight near the front of the restaurant is a terrific Alice-In-Wonderland-type painting featuring multiple foods and ingredients walking with a girl and a goat, who both may have taken a bit too many magic mushrooms. A fun and fairly large couch seating area sits in the front as well, close by to the swanky bar. The crown jewel of the interior of Girl & The Goat though is its stunning open kitchen, located all the way in the back of the building. As you dine take a moment to walk by and watch at all the hard work going on behind the scenes to make such intricate and unique dishes.
Before jumping right into the food I highly recommend grabbing one of Girl & The Goat’s inventive and bold cocktails. The first time my girlfriend Erin and I dined there we tried the Salt & Ash and Ring of Fire cocktails. The Salt & Ash is made with Benhez Mezcal, ancho reyes verde, kings ginger, grapefruit shrub, and lime while the Ring of Fire is made with Peligroso Silver Tequila, tarragon, pomegranate, jalapeno, lime, and ginger Beer. We both enjoyed these two drinks so much that we got them the next time we went to Girl & The Goat. The Salt & Ash is perfectly smoky, spicy, and sweet while the Ring of Fire is an refreshing and elevated margarita that is sweet from the pomegranate and spicy from the jalapeno.
The bread selection at Girl & The Goat is quite nice and can make for a great appetizer or starter. My first time at the restaurant Erin and I got Blueberry Pickled Cornbread served with honey butter and cherry relish. The sweet and savory combination was great with the warm cornbread. The second time I was there me and the group I was with tried the Raraouille Focaccia served with whipped feta and tomato jam. The focaccia was average but the whipped feta and jam were extremely fresh and made for great spreads to use on the bread. Another solid starter was the Duck Tartare which was topped with shaved Brussels sprouts, spinach, gooseberries, nuts, and served with a crispy duck fat lavash and Gochujang mayo. The raw duck was not everyone’s favorite but the elements served with it certainly made for an explosion of flavors and textures. It ended up being Erin’s favorite dish of the night!
Izard’s menu at Girl & The Goat is primarily divided up between meat, goat, fish, and vegetable dishes. My friends and I opted for vegetable and meat small plates to share. The three vegetable plates that we decided to try were the Roasted Cauliflower, Sauteed Green Beans, and the Pan Fried Shishito Peppers. The Roasted Cauliflower was the best of the three, topped with pickled peppers, pine nuts, and mint that made for a light and refreshing dish. The Pan Fried Shishito Peppers were made with parmesan., sesame, and miso that made the slightly spicy peppers a bit savory with a crunchy outside coating. At one of Stephanie’s other restaurants, called Duck Duck Goat, Erin and I once had green beans that were absolutely incredible so the table decided to order the Sauteed Green Beans at Girl & The Goat to compare. The green beans at Girl & The Goat used fish sauce vinaigrette and cashews as flavoring, so I was unable to try the dish because of my allergies to fish, but others around the table thought the dish was quite bland. Duck Duck Goat is the winner when it comes to green beans!
A dish that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to pass up when at Girl & The Goat is the Goat Empanadas with avocado smash, grilled pineapple-blueberry salsa, and queso fresco. The empanadas are one of a kind, with perfectly flakey dough and sweet and creamy flavors balanced with a bit of spice from seasoning on the goat meat. Perhaps the surprise of the night for the entire table was the Braised Beef Tongue, made with masa, beef vinaigrette, and salsa verde. I thought the toungue could be a bit chewy and tough but it was surprisingly tender and juicy, full of savory and spicy flavors from the vinaigrette and salsa.
The two standout dishes at Girl & The Goat are the Wood Oven Roasted Pig Face and the Crisp Braised Pork Shank. There’s a reason I’ve had these two dishes both times I’ve been at the restaurant, and I wouldn’t hesitate to get it again if I go back. The Wood Oven Roasted Pig Face is served with tamarind, cilantro, and a red wine-maple sauce for a sweet element. It is topped with a sunny side up egg and potato sticks, complementing the perfectly cooked pork with creamy and crunchy elements. The pig face is certainly a dish that people may be weary of trying at first, but once people start give it a try there will be a fight for who gets the last bite.
The heaviest dish of the night, the Crisp Braised Pork Shank, was the last entree to come out. The service at Girl & The Goat is impeccable, with the staff on top of everything from allergies to recommendations. My only issue with this heavy dish being served in the end is that we had already had so much to eat that it was a bit of a struggle to finish the pork shank. However, feeling full didn’t stop us all from demolishing most of this massive pork shank, served with a buttermilk dressing, squash-shiitake kimchi, and naan. The pork shank is perfectly cooked, juicy and tender on the inside and crispy on the outside. While the pork can certainly be eaten on its own, combining it with the warm just-out-of-the-oven naan and creamy buttermilk dressing was absolutely delectable.
The final question of the night was whether to order dessert. The sun had set and our stomachs were full with an array of meats, vegetables, sauces, breads, and alcohol but we knew in the end we couldn’t pass up looking at the dessert menu, especially not when all the other dishes had been so tasty and well-thought out. As soon as the menu arrived we were in it to win it! Two desserts stood out in particular, the Caramel Corn & Malt Balls, which our waiter had recommended, and the Chocolate Cake. The Caramel Corn & Malt Balls was unlike any other dessert I’ve ever had, consisting of vanilla malt ice cream, popcorn caramel, toffee pieces, and chocolate magic shell. The stark flavors and textures combined to make something truly magical. The Chocolate Cake didn’t disappoint either, as it was a molten lava cake served with shiitake mushroom gelato and topped with crunchy chocolate crumbs. The mushroom gelato paired quite well with the extremely rich chocolate components, making for a dish that was finished in minutes. For some, it may be a little too rich, but for me it was a chocoholics dream!
The expectations for Girl & The Goat were sky high and it exceeded them with stellar service, an amazing environment, and an solid variety of super innovative dishes. In the end, it is Stephanie Izard’s eye and taste for combining unique flavors, textures, and meats that make her first restaurant an essential one in Chicago’s world-class food scene. It’s certainly in my top five restaurants I’ve eaten at in Chicago, and there are a lot of reasons to back it up as Chicago’s GOAT (greatest of all time). If visiting Chicago or if you are a local who has yet to try Girl & The Goat, make sure to plan ahead and grab a reservation to this stellar restaurant, as reservations fill up months in advance. You will not be disappointed!
-Michael Averbook, Foodie Extraordinaire