The Girl and the Goat is one of the most notorious restaurants in Chicago — and one of the most notoriously difficult to get into. Hype for the restaurant started cooking when its chef, Stephanie Izard, was the first woman to win Top Chef, then continued with a stew of awards: both James Beard and Saveur Magazine named it Best New Restaurant while Food & Wine recognized her as Best New Chef.
Even though the small plates restaurant has been open since 2010, The Girl and the Goat’s popularity refuses to cool down, not even after the debut of Little Goat diner across the street. The best bet for getting into the restaurant is booking reservations 90 days in advance — right down to the minute.
Waiting three months for restaurant reservations makes the meal kind of a big deal, even though The Girl and the Goat is not a special occasion place. So is all the wait and all the hype worth it?
After three visits to the restaurant (and plenty of waiting for reservations), my answer is… it depends on what you order.
Unfortunately, The Girl and the Goat is not one of those places where any dish on its relatively small menu is going to be mind-blowing. In fact, some of them are outright boring. But if you chose wisely and are willing to be a tiny bit daring, you’ll have a great meal worth every minute of waiting.
The menu is divided into three sections (vegetables, fish and meat) with a fourth full of goat-based dishes. All are to be ordered small plates style and shared among the whole table. The Confit Goat Belly (above, $19), with bourbon butter, fennel and chunks of lobster and crab, can be both hit or miss. The flavors were nice but the standout was actually the seafood, not the goat. The Goat Empanadas ($16), on the other hand, were wonderfully smoky and a good starter to the meal.
The vegetable dishes include small starters (marinated olives, $7; shishito peppers, $11) and creative sides (roasted beets, $9; chickpea fritter, $15). The Sweet Corn Pierogies ($15) with baby carrot giardiniera were slightly unmemorable (go for the goat empanadas instead). Skip the Wood Grilled Broccoli ($11), a massive mound of greens on a dollop of smoky bleu cheese that was as boring as it sounds, and order the Roasted Cauliflower ($12) with pickled peppers, pine nuts and mint — it was the single best dish I had at Girl and the Goat.
The fish section spans all sorts of seafood, from King Salmon Tartare with clams ($17), Cape Cod Mussels with butternut squash ($16) and Pan-Roasted Sea Bass with jupiter grapes ($17). The Seared Diver Scallops ($19) with peaches, plums, sweet onion, pickled corn and uni cream was an explosive mix of flavors that I enjoyed, despite my reluctance to eat fruit. The Calamari Bruschetta ($17) with goat milk ricotta and goat bacon was delicious, even though it was difficult to eat and the bread was saturated with butter. (Just try not to think about that part!)
The Grilled Baby Octopus ($17) with fava beans, pea tips and pistachios was outstanding; I loved the mixture of textures with the crunchy pistachios and the pickled flavor of the vegetables with the juicy octopus. Another favorite. The Hamachi Crudo ($16) with crisp pork belly and caperberries was a letdown; the nearly flavorless fish didn’t contrast the pork belly like I expected and the dish was quickly overlooked.
Finally, the meat section, where the Girl and the Goat’s famous dishes reside, has common dishes like Grilled Walter’s Kitchen ($21) with fermented tofu; Ham Frites ($7) in a cheddar beer sauce; and Crisp Braised Pork Shank (pictured at top, $26) with nectarine kimchi. The massive shank is cooked til the edge is crispy perfection while the interior remains juicy. Served with naan and the kimchi sauce, I preferred the shank by its beautiful self.
But it was the not-so-common dishes, like Braised Beef Tongue ($15) with salsa verde and Wood Oven Roasted Pig Face ($19) with potato stix and cilantro in a red wine maple sauce topped with an egg, that were the best of the meat menu. To our surprise (and delight), the pig face did not arrive staring back at us, instead just the meat from the face. The maple sauce and dripping egg were amazing additions to the pork. The beef tongue was equally as satisfying, as long as you ignore what you’re eating!
Desserts were creative in description but lacked the actual spark in execution. The Miso Butterscotch Budino ($9) with bacon toffee and pineapple was a daring combination of flavor, texture and tastes; but the PB&J ($9) with peanut butter cake and salted peanut gelato with concord grape was surprisingly mediocre.
In the end, The Girl and Goat might not be worth waiting three months for. But it does get points for creativity, amazing cocktails and a great atmosphere — as long as you aren’t forced to eat dinner at 9:45 pm.
Go to The Girl & The Goat for :: creative small plates and fantastic cocktails. Order the pork shank, cauliflower, scallops and octopus. Notes :: Reservations are practically required and available online. Try searching 90 days ahead or last minute to snag cancellations.