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REVIEW: Celebrity chef Izard too heavy-handed at much-hyped Girl & the Goat

GIRL & THE GOAT ★★

KEY: ★★★★ Extraordinary; ★★★ Excellent; ★★ Very Good; ★ Good; Zero stars: Poor

The late Chicago Sun-Times dining critic Pat Bruno reviews Girl & the Goat on Oct. 1, 2010.

I can’t remember when so much ado was made about a restaurant. The buzz connected to Girl & the Goat started a year or more before it actually opened in early July, as foodies waited with breathless anticipation. Regular updates on the progress of the restaurant were posted online, and you could Twitter away with chef Stephanie Izard (“Top Chef” 2008 winner) about her new restaurant.

Seems like the buzz worked, and then some. Trying to get a reservation at a decent hour at this hot, hot restaurant on Randolph Street in the West Loop is a joke. Here’s the thing: I don’t appreciate being practically laughed at or given the silent treatment when inquiring about a suggested day and time for a reservation. (I say come January, you will be able to pick any time or day you wish should you care to eat there.)

I like Izard. She seems to be a nice person and works hard, but I wonder if this is a case of being overhyped to the point of foolishness -- or embarrassment. This is, after all, just a restaurant, one that serves contemporary American food (with a gastropub aftertaste). Food that has some shining moments, but I am not about to get all gushy about it. I think when the tsunami of hype goes away, Girl & the Goat will get a lot better, which hopefully means that Izard will think twice (the menu goes through frequent, almost daily, changes) about dishes like “Crispy pig face” and goat meatballs (don’t ask) and pay more attention to what she is really good at -- texture, bold flavors and the joy of crafting simple ingredients into works of enjoyment without getting all cutesy about it. Right now, she is trying way too hard.

The menu works off the small-plate idiom (“The chef suggests three to five plates,” our waiter said), but it seems as if the approach here was to up the portion size, so small plate or not-so-small plate, the portions are generous.

There are four breads (baked in-house) to choose from, and you will pay $4 for whichever one you choose. Four bucks for bread aside, the pretzel bread was a mini loaf and looked great, but it was way too dense and doughy, so we ate two small slices.

Here is how the rest went: For a “vegetable” course, there were two standouts. The roasted cauliflower with pine nuts, mint and pickled peppers was outstanding, one of those dishes that you would love to duplicate at home. I would say the same thing about the sauteed green beans with a fish sauce vinaigrette and cashews. Those perfectly cooked beans got moved to another level of elegance and flavor with the fish sauce idea. Quite delicious.

A “first course” choice, the “crisp skate,” I would put in the category of very good. The skate had been breaded lightly and was in the company of grilled calamari (a few small rings were about the size of it), grilled radicchio (nothing startlingly creative there) with a tomato aioli adding flavor as a “sauce.”

Quite a few dishes get the wood-roasted treatment (and the aroma of burning wood hangs heavy in the air and has a way of sneaking into your clothing).

I am not sure why “Ham Frites” gets listed on the menu as a “main course,” because basically these are frites, plain and simple (good but not great), that have “no connection to ham,” or so our waiter said, but we never got to ask why french fries are listed as a “main course.” And so it goes at the G&TG.

Probably the best dish eaten was a simple rendition of skirt steak a la plancha (listed as a “main course”). The steak, a nice portion, sliced, elegantly tender and flavorful, was paired with saucer-size slices of Chioggia beets, carrots, “house pickles” and wilted romaine. I asked our waiter where the “salted goat milk caramel” (part of the menu description) came in, but his answer, which was stilted at best, got lost in the roar of the crowd noise.

Two of the four desserts offered were tried. Ho-hum on the “fried potato dumplings” (you call this a dessert?), which were nothing more than a poor knockoff of a beignet, but the two of them were oblong and nicely tender. Maybe I don’t get it, but the candied eggplant and figs with these dumplings seemed a lot more contrived than creative.

But I would order the “goat cheese bavaroise” again. Here we are dealing with layers of flavor starting with caramalized brown sugar cake followed by blueberries and goat cheese served warm in a country crock. The texture, depth of flavor and just the right amount of sweetness all added up to a deliciously satisfying dessert.



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