You know you’ve eaten somewhere special if you are thinking about the food over a week after you ate it.
Recently I was fortunate enough to be taken to Stephanie Izzard’s restaurant, Girl and The Goat, in Chicago, IL. As a Top Chef fan, when I was first told I would be eating here, lots of screaming and jumping up and down occurred. I was super excited.
Izzard (Top Chef Season 4 Winner) put together a really remarkable restaurant. The atmosphere is refreshingly relaxed. The dress code (I don’t think there really is one) is semi-dressy casual? Let’s just say, I saw plenty of people there in jeans. The staff is welcoming and friendly and really knows their stuff. Beyond the well coordinated decor and awesome painting of a goat on that wall, one thing that really stood out was the eclectic music collection. There were many times during the meal when I commented on the songs being played. They included selections from Shakira to Bob Dylan. It all melded together very well – the music, the furniture, the artwork, the menu design, and of course the food.
Girl and the Goat feels like a upscale update to the neighborhood restaurant. I couldn’t help but notice that everyone seemed to be in a good mood. The atmosphere was one that encouraged us to talk to other diners and overall, it was just a fun place to be.
Besides the fantastic setting, the food was amazing. There were combinations of ingredients that you wouldn’t think would go well together, but they did. There were many times when the food left me speechless. I couldn’t quite put into words how great it was. (It’s a true story, I’m not just trying to sound like a food critic.)
One thing I really like is that the portions of food at Girl and The Goat are more like small plates and are meant to be shared. This is nice because it allows you to try multiple items on the menu. I guess the only complaint I would have was that everything on the menu sounded so good, we really didn’t know where to begin. Luckily, the Girl and The Goat staff are well educated on the ins and outs of their offerings. We asked our server for recommendations and threw in a few extras just for fun. In the end we couldn’t really go wrong.
Surprisingly the favorite dish of the night was roasted cauliflower. Doesn’t sound like it would be mind-blowing, but when pickled peppers, pine nuts and mint are added in, the combination is something that really is just spectacular. There were unpredictable, fresh flavors in each bite. It instantly stood out above the rest of the amazing food we ate that night. Just thinking about it again makes me hungry.
I could go on and on about the food, but I want to analyze this experience a bit further.
There were a few things I took away from this meal (besides the fact that I was having a great time and couldn’t believe that I was there in the first place. Did I mention that Stephanie was there that night? I was too shy to say hi. But she really was there!). One thing I wondered about while eating this meal was what cultural category does this food fall into? After mulling it over a bit, I think it really is modern American cuisine. Not in the cornbread, hot dog, apple pie sort of way, but in the bison butt, scallops, squash bread kind of way. Izzard’s menu borrowed flavors from all over the cultural spectrum. The chickpea fritters we ate were clearly inspired by Indian spice combinations. The fish we had was probably prepared as Frenchy as any fish I’ve had. The fries sprinkled with ham dust were distinctly American. Each dish went well together.
The menu, to me, reflects what America is today. We are becoming a more global society and the answer to the question – what is American food? – keeps changing. After all, we are a melting pot. Or is it a mixed salad? Anyway, you get the idea. We are a young country and our culinary identity changes along with the make-up of our population. Who knows what American cuisine will taste like in just 50 years from now.
Something else stuck with me from that night. I thought about was how accessible this food seemed to be to me. Now, I’m not going to lie and say that it wasn’t an expensive meal (that I was lucky to have), but if you wanted to come in sit at the bar and order just one small plate, you could and you’d still have a fantastic experience for less than $30/person with a drink. Yes, that is a lot for a Friday night dinner, but when the quality of food is what it is, it really is not that bad. Beyond the financial accessibility of the food, the whole restaurant was inviting and comfortable. A couple walked in and were recognized by the staff, as if the couple was just stopping by like they do every Thursday night.
These observations reminded me of a discussion I heard on Anthony Bourdain’s 100th Episode of No Reservations. Bourdain joined some of his friends in Paris. They examined how the old ways of fine dining were disappearing and this new bistro style was really taking over. High quality food is being made more accessible to the masses.
This change can be reflected in the amount of young people that are eating at fine dining establishments. I think that this accessibility is going to have a huge impact on what we see in lower cost food restaurants in the future. Already we are seeing fast food restaurants looking for more natural ingredients, and it all goes back to the accessibility to high quality food. If we as a whole, become more accustomed to a a certain standard of food, it is only a matter of time before this is reflected everywhere – even McDonald’s. Not that white tablecloths and waiters in tuxes don’t have their place, but you don’t have to go to a venue like that anymore to get the same caliber of food. Girl and The Goat did a great job exemplifying this change. If I could, I’d make it my “wanna grab dinner around the corner?” place in a heartbeat.
That however, will just have to wait until I make my millions writing about and photographing food.
Mini-review: I highly recommend making it to Girl and The Goat at the very least once. Personally, I cannot wait to go back. Save up if you need to and have fun. When you go, make sure you call at least month in advance to get table. You won’t regret it. Oh and order the roasted cauliflower. And the blood orange sorbet while you’re at it.
If you would like to see more photos of the wonderful food I ate at Girl and The Goat, please “like” the One World, One Plate Facebook page and you will find them there.