As you’ve probably noticed if you’ve been following the blog at all, if I have a favorite celebrity chef, it’s got to be Stephanie Izard. She won season 4 of Bravo’s Top Chef to become the first (and so far only!) female Top Chef. She’s from Chicago. And ever since she won “$100,000 to help make her culinary dreams a reality, furnished by the Glad family of products,” I’ve been waiting impatiently for her restaurant to open.
If you remember, we got the chance to meet Stephanie at a little get together at her house, thanks to a contest in the RedEye. And you may or may not know that David and I traipsed all over the city trying to get our hands on tiny little goat buttons, hoping to win tickets to a premiere party for the new restaurant. The whole goat button thing didn’t really work out for us, but David was kind enough to make us reservations after the restaurant opened a couple of weeks ago.
Here’s my rundown:
The restaurant has high ceilings, and a kind of rustic decor. The kitchen is open, and you can see Stephanie hard at work with the whole kitchen staff. We sat in the center of the floor, so had a good view of the kitchen and the bar. The kitchen is dominated by huge wood-burning ovens–the better to wood-fire some pizzas, my dear. Overall, the restaurant has a comfortable feel. The servers were dressed in jeans and sneakers, which is fine by me, but the patrons were fairly over-dressed for the decor, on the whole. Probably because of the whole new-and-trendy aspect.
The linens were minimal, and in keeping with the rustic feel of the space. Water is served in re-purposed wine bottles, which looked cool, but didn’t exactly keep the water cold.
P.S. We had a decent view of the kitchen, but the restaurant layout has two two-seater tables actually IN the kitchen, so if you want to spend your date that close to the fire, try to reserve one of those spots! I tried not to geek out about seeing Stephanie at work in the kitchen, but we saw that at least one women went up and got her menu autographed, so I guess she’s used to the attention by now.
I really should let David tell you about this, since he was the one to order a drink. The bar menu was loaded with great wine selections, by the bottle or the glass, something like 30 different craft beer options, and some very meticulously designed mixed drinks. David ordered something called a “Smoking Jacket,” which featured smoked bourbon or something of the sort. I didn’t taste any, but he enjoyed it. His only “objection” is that it was probably the first pink-colored drink he’s ever ordered in public. We didn’t expect it to come out pink!
This, of course, is what we came for.
Everything is served as small plates, and they recommend two to three plates per person. The menu is sorted into Veggie, Fish, and Meat sections, though as our server warned us, those aren’t strict categories. He offered to make accommodations if we were vegetarians, but as a couple of carnivores, we weren’t too worried. We skipped the oyster selections (we felt brave, but not that brave) and started instead with the “veggie” version of the bread, which was a fresh-baked loaf served with chimichurri and sweet onion butter. All delicious.
From the Veggie plates section, we chose a salad made with fresh mozzarella, yellow cherry tomatoes, and yellow plums. These were served over greens with a vinaigrette and a cilantro-herb paste. Very tasty. And our server told us that that particular dish made the menu that day because Stephanie had been inspired by the cheese and tomatoes at the Green City Market that morning, which was a nice touch.
From the Fish section, I ordered seared scallops, served with braised veal and caponata over marcona almond butter. It was awesome. David’s not a seafood fan, so I didn’t even have to share, but I did get him to try a bite. Even he agreed it was kind of tasty. The scallops were seared perfectly, with an awesome crust on each side. Nestled between the scallops was a very flavorful tender veal. I would order the veal on it’s own any day. The saltiness of the veal, the creaminess of the almond butter, and the subtle sweetness of the scallop melded together perfectly. Can we go back yet? I want this dish again! (If you’re not familiar, caponata is a kind of vegetable salad. Don’t worry, I had to look it up, too. I’m not sure exactly what was in Stephanie’s, but it was very tasty, and definitely added to the dish texturally).
From the Meat section, we ordered two plates: ham frites, with swiss cheese dipping sauce and a sun-dried tomato aioli for dipping, and a skirt steak with pickles, beets, carrots, and cilantro over a salted goat’s milk caramel sauce. The ham frites were basically bacon french fries, and they were as delicious as that sounds. Yes, they were glorified cheese fries, and yes, every bite was delicious. The skirt steak was cooked perfectly (for David–I’m one to over-cook my meat, but I know he was pleased). I enjoyed the pickles so much more than I expected, and the carrots were crunchy and sweet, but my favorite part was the caramel sauce. It was an unexpected sweetness, but a great contrast to all of the other flavors.
Then came dessert. On the one hand, we were stuffed. On the other hand, we were intrigued by most of the selections on the menu. We ended up ordering something called a fudgecicle. It was aptly name, as the foundation of the dessert was frozen chocolate mousse that tasted like a fudgecicle, but with so much more depth. The fudge mousse was topped with a sweet wafer, which was in turn topped with…Olive Oil Gelato. A couple of spoonfuls of a warm sauce made of Dragon’s Milk stout and other goodies softened the frozen bits around the edges and brought all of the flavors together perfectly. And I’m not a beer fan, by any stretch.
P.S. About that gelato: David and I were amazed by the flavor. I can’t describe it to you except to say that it tastes exactly like it sounds, really, but also, so much better than it sounds. Sweet, creamy, with a clean, clear taste of olive oil. I might not have predicted beforehand that I’d like such a thing, but I can tell you now that it was delicious. I’d absolutely order the dessert again.
Can you tell I was pleased? We both were. I don’t think we were disappointed by anything we tried, and we saw a lot of tasty-looking dishes being served to our neighbors as well. Much of what was on the menu was outside of our comfort zone, but in the end, I think that’s what made it fun. I feel like I expanded my culinary horizons, and had an excellent meal. Our server was knowledgeable and attentive. The atmosphere was welcoming. The food, obviously, was excellent. And we were pleasantly surprised at the tab—-after a drink, a starter, two plates each, and a shared dessert, we managed to spend less than $100, including tip. That’s more than we spend on most Wednesday nights, sure, but well worth it. Considering I’ve been psyched for this meal for about 6 months now, as I followed Stephanie on Twitter and waited for the restaurant to open, I’d say our meal was definitely a success. I had high hopes, and I wasn’t disappointed.
And even though I would order any of these dishes again the next time we go back, I’m excited to know that the menu will change often, and that the next trip could be a completely different meal. That’ll be worth the wait, too.
Girl and the Goat; 809 W Randolph St, Chicago IL; Cost: Varies, menu is small plates, two to three plates per person are recommended, and range in price from $6-$17/plate.