Restaurant Review: Girl & the Goat, Architect of Flavor
Stephanie Izard's pizza doesn't taste like any pizza I've had before, not with its cool drizzle of yogurt and julienne of rapini greens. In fact, in shape and spirit, it's more like lahmajun, the Turkish flat bread—only Izard's, which is slathered with a spicy masala sauce, comes with caramelized cipolline onions and tender pieces of smoked goat. It's crisp in all the right places and piping hot with gooey cheddar, Gouda, and tomme-style cheeses. And it goes against everything I thought I knew about good pizza.
That dish epitomizes what makes Izard's Girl & the Goat—the Chicago restaurant she opened last July, two years after winning the fourth season of Bravo's Top Chef—such an interesting place. I first tried it a few months ago, when I went to Chicago specifically to eat. The plan was to revisit a few restaurants I hadn't been to in years—like Cafe Spiaggia (Tony Mantuano's less-formal offshoot of Spiaggia), which still turns out some of the city's best pastas—and to check out several newer places I hadn't been to yet, like Paul Kahan's Midwestern gastro pub, Publican (a pork lover's dream, with the likes of homemade charcuterie, boudin blank, and ham chops). These were good meals. Solid meals. But Girl & the Goat was something else entirely.
I'd never watched Izard on Top Chef, nor had I eaten at her previous restaurant, the 60-seat Scylla in Chicago's Bucktown neighborhood, which closed in 2007. When I looked at Girl & the Goat's menu online, it seemed to hopscotch around the globe: much of it was Mediterranean inspired (pappardelle, ravioli), but the ingredients were all over the place (satsuma orange, sea beans) and a sizable number of them played into the nose-to-tail trend of the day. There'd been a lot of hype leading up to the restaurant's opening, and I had to wonder whether Izard could really pull off a menu like that one. Still, I went with an open mind.
The space, for starters, is impressive—huge, really, with soaring ceilings and a scattering of polished wood tables that make the place feel more like a party venue than a restaurant. You step inside and get sucked right into a convivial vibe. Johnny Cash is playing on the sound system one minute, '80s New Wave music the next, and the bar that lines one side of the room is packed a few people deep. We hovered around the communal bar table on our first trip and landed four spots, next to a family from the suburbs and a couple of food bloggers from Texas who photographed everything they ate. "Try a fry!" one of the bloggers said, and we did—even my sister, who is not a person known for eating off strangers' plates. They were incredible: crisp and salty, with a meaty sprinkle of something over top (Izard's dehydrated powdered ham, I later learned). Dipped into two sauces—a smoky tomato aïoli and an insanely delicious cheddar—beer sauce—the batch we ordered went down easily with a hoppy Three Floyds Alpha King, one of the excellent local beers Izard keeps on tap.