Thursday, May 19, 2011

Chicago Eats (part 3)

Okay, now comes the restaurant that totally knocked our socks off. It was Girl and the Goat. Keep in mind that this was the place where we had 10pm reservations, so it was really tempting not to go. I wasn't that hungry (considering I'd already had 3 meals that day), R. was napping, her leg was hurting because of the tattoo she'd gotten earlier that day, it was late, how good could the food be, look at our experience with Publican, which wasn't all that, etc. They had to overcome A LOT to make the visit worth it.

But I decided that it wasn't every day that I was in Chicago, I'd regret it later if I didn't give it a shot, so I overrode my reluctance, roused R., and off we went. We decided not to bring our "real" cameras, because it was dark and dinner lighting was never good for photos, etc. Oh, how we would come to rue this decision.

Girl and the Goat Kitchen

We got there early, at 9:30pm, hoping they'd be able to seat us early. The good news was, they were. The bad news was, it was at a table similar to the one we were seated at, at Publican -- right in front of the kitchen where the food preparation was happening. "Oh no, not this again," was my dreaded first thought. My second thought was, "OMG the lighting's not bad at all and we're right in front of the kitchen. Why didn't we bring our cameras?!" So unfortunately, all the photos you see here kind of suck. They were taken by R.'s little standard digital camera, and my phone camera, which is really good for a phone camera, but nonetheless sucks.

It was hot as hell, sitting there. That's one negative. You're right near the stoves, and they are BLASTING heat. I don't know how the cooks stand it. They said they just don't think about it, because if they did, then they'd really feel it and be miserable.

Our server Meadows was awesome. He promised that sitting at this table was like no other table in the restaurant. He was super nice and friendly, made great suggestions, and was generally the kind of server you always want to have.  Also awesome were Alexis, Sean, and Juan, the cooks who chatted with us as they prepared plate after plate of delicious food. They were all really warm and friendly -- the total opposite of the people we encountered at Publican, sitting at a similar table. We had so much freaking fun sitting there, chatting with them and eating the yummylicious food. We really DID feel special, that we had the best seats in the house, that we were treasured guests.

Girl and the Goat Menu

The food was spectacular. Like, these pictures do them NO justice. Even had we had our Nikons, the pictures and my words still wouldn't have done the food justice, because food this good needs to be tasted to be truly understood how good it was. It was all simple things, well prepared. R. is the pickiest eater in the WORLD -- she has so many taste and texture issues -- yet the food was so well prepared that she ate things neither she nor I ever thought she would eat, and LIKED IT.

We both started with a bread. We didn't know it, but this was perhaps not the wisest decision, because sitting where we sat, the kitchen gave us food to sample fo free and so we had more food than we could finish. Plus for me, the bread was my least favorite thing. It was one of R.'s favorites, though. She ordered sweet onion butter and herb oil, while I had chicken liver butter and carrot sage oil. I'm only including a pic of one bread because they both basically looked the same.


The first thing we got to try was the escargot ravioli. We didn't order it, they just gave it to us to sample. So awesome. And it was soooo good! I was a huge fan of this dish. Escargot ravioli, bacon, tamarind-miso sauce, crispy onions.

Escargot Ravioli

I love beets, so whenever there's a beet salad I'm likely to order it. Roasted beets, green beans, white anchovy, avocado creme fraiche.

Roasted Beets and Green Beans

All mixed together:

Roasted Beets and Green Beans

R. ordered English pea pods, which you were supposed to eat like you would edamame, by just sucking out the peas, but they were so well prepared that I just went ahead and ate the shells sometimes.

Marinated English Pea Pods

The real star vegetable, however, were the green beans, which neither of us ordered, but which they once again gave us to try. See, it totally DOES pay to sit at this table!! Okay, these green beans were out of this WORLD. It was a favorite of both me and R. It looks like nothing special, but it was so amazingly good. Sauteed green beans, fish sauce vinaigrette, cashews.

Haha I just read this on Yelp: "Everything. Was. Amazing. The green beans especially. I don't know what kind of crack sauce Stephanie Izard has come up with, but I want to bathe in it."

Sauteed Green Beans

I also got the hiramasa (I learned that's another word for yellowtail -- my favorite sushi fish!) crudo. Flavored with crisp pork belly, aji aioli, caperberries.

Hiramasa Crudo

And after ALL THAT, we still had to eat our entrees!!

R.'s: Pan-roasted halibut, brandade, grilled asparagus, green garlic, blackberry.

Pan-Roasted Halibut

Mine: Wood oven roasted pig face, sunny side egg, tamarind, cilantro, potato stix.

Wood Oven Roasted Pig Face

Me mixing it all up...

Wood Oven Roasted Pig Face

Okay, so funny story about the pig face. And not just that it's simply called "pig face" on the menu. When we had dinner with R.'s Chicago friends, J. told us about when she went to Bacon Fest, and talked about how one of the vendors had given her the cheek of a pig. While those of us who were foodies ooohed and aaahed, R. sat there totally flummoxed as to why this would be a good thing. Fast forward to Girl and the Goat, and her trying my entree: "Ohmygod, I LOVE PIG FACE!!!!! I now totally understand!!" HAHA.

So yeah, the way they prepare it is that they braise the pig heads for 12 hours. Then they peel back the skin and pick off all the meat from the head. This mixture is then rolled into a log and chilled. Then once it's solid, you can slice it. Here are the pig heads braising, which Juan was nice enough to take a photo for us:

Braising Pig Heads

This is Juan. He is awesome. He was the one who did most of the work entertaining me and R., because his station was right in front of us. Here he's "hiding" what he's doing, because once he realized R. was taking photographs of everything, he didn't want her to take a photo mid-plating so that it would look less than perfect. Little did he know how much our cameras sucked.

Juan at Girl and the Goat

This is the hanger steak. Neither of us ordered it, but once I had tasted the food you don't know how much I regretted that I didn't. Spring Hill makes the best hanger steak in Seattle, but I bet this place would have given it a run for its money. Still, if I had gotten it, I wouldn't have gotten the pig face. So you know.

Grilled Hanger Steak

Even though we were stuffed to the gills at this point (do not forget I already ate 3 meals that day ... I don't know how I did it), we ordered dessert, because how could we not? R. loved hers and I liked mine, but I would have rather have had the hanger steak. :D

Mine (left): rhubarb and lemon, shortcake, buttermilk panna cotta, lemon gelato, salted graham cracker

Hers (right): blood orange sorbet, parsnip pot de creme, pistachio cake, three sisters cornmeal crust

Blood Orange Sorbet and Rhubarb & Lemon Shortcake

Okay, and lest you think this was folie a deux, or that we only thought it was great because we got special treatment, I want to share two things with you:

1) Currently on Yelp, Girl and the Goat has over 730 reviews with an average 4.5 rating. That is hard to do.

2) In the middle of our dinner, the table behind us (a group of about 10 people) starting applauding the kitchen. Okay, when people are so moved by your food that they start spontaneously applauding, you know it's good.

The entire dining experience was just great. We sat at "table 5," which seats two. There's another table at the other end, "table 4," that also seats two -- I'm sure that would be great as well. Book early, or do as we did and just go at whatever time you can. It's worth it!

Another favorite place of mine that we went to was Kuma's Corner -- the burgers were wonderful. I ordered my burger medium rare and it came perfectly, with pink in the middle and seasoned just right. The meat was just good. They also had house-made chips, but I went with the fries and they were meh (which is fine, because the fewer fries I eat, the better). Also, the burger was huge. It comes with 10oz of beef, which is just over half a pound. O.o

I got the Neurosis: cheddar, Swiss, sauteed mushrooms, caramelized onions, horseradish mayo

Neurosis Burger at Kuma's

They also have "make your own" mac & cheese, and R., being a mac & cheese lover, couldn't resist. She got that AND a burger. So yeah, there was a loooooooooooot of food left, which unfortunately ended up getting tossed, because when were we going to be able to eat it? :-(

Kuma's Mac & Cheese

Finally, for dinner, we went to Frontera Grill. My camera was out of battery by this point, so I had to use my phone camera again, and I think R. had her D40, but the lighting wasn't great. So please pardon the (mostly) crappy photos once again.

We had time to kill before our reservations and we spent it having drinks and what not, so we weren't even hungry, but we put our game faces on and ordered too much food.

I had two appetizers, the ceviche Yucateco (steamed mexican blue shrimp and calamari, lime, orange, habanero, avocado, jicama, and cilantro), and the tamal de hongos (banana leaf-steamed tamal of wild and cultivated mushrooms, epazote, roasted chilaca chile cream, tany wild argula). The ceviche was small, but came with filling chips. The mushroom tamale was very good. I'm usually not a fan of tamales; they're so dry and boring, but this one was done right.

Tamal de Hongos

Ceviche Yucateco

R. got the sopes rancheros (crispy corn masa boats, savory shredded beef, roasted tomato, avocado, homemade fresh cheese), which she LOVED.

Sopes Rancheros

A. got the Topolobampo tortilla soup (dark broth flavored with pasilla, with grilled chicken, avocado, hand-made Jack cheese, thick cream and crisp tortilla strips).

Topolobampo Tortilla Soup

I don't know what we were THINKING, getting all this food. I mean, I guess I was thinking, I'm at a Rick Bayless restaurant, I can't NOT order a bunch of stuff to try!

R. and I actually both got the same entree, which tells me that I wasn't very adventurous in my selection (I wasn't), but it just sounded so good. Maybe I was thinking about the hanger steak from Girl and the Goat. In any case, we both got the tacos al carbon, with the skirt steak (mine medium rare, hers well done), which came with a bowl of delicious beans, a generous helping of guacamole, and homemade tortillas. It was good, but I was SO FULL by this point that I could only eat one of the tortillas. I did eat all the steak and some of the beans. You know how full I was when I tell you that I actually left some guacamole uneaten, which is unheard of.

Tacos al Carbon with Skirt Steak

A. had a half order of the marisquera de lujo for her entree, which came with half a dozen oysters and their accompaniments, ceviche fronterizo (lime-marinated Hawaiian albacore with tomatoes, olives, cilantro, green chile), and coctel atun tropical (sashimi-grade Hawaiian yellowfin tuna, avocado-tomatillo guacamole, tangy mango-grapefruit salsa). It looked enormous. I actually ate one of her oysters because she couldn't finish it all. :))

Marisquera de Lujo

Okay, so overall impression of Frontera Grill. It was good, definitely good. It wasn't the restaurant's fault that we had to kill time and for us that involved filling our stomachs before dinner. It was also reasonably priced, I thought. I mean, no worse than any upscale restaurant in Seattle. From what I'd heard from others I was expecting really sky-high prices, but eating in Chicago, at least the places we went, seemed actually much more favorably priced than here.

But I will also say that it's fairly difficult to wow 2 people who grew up eating Mexican food in southern California (and eat it still). I mean, the food was definitely more upscale, but didn't taste noticeably different from other good Mexican food I've had.

Our final official meal in Chicago was at Edwardo's, which wasn't the best choice, but we didn't know it at the time. Though their stuffed spinach pizza is apparently award-winning, it was only so-so. A friend of R.'s had sung its praises to high heaven, to the point where we were both intrigued. I loved the idea of spinach pizza, but I was a bit hesitant, because the guy normally doesn't like spinach and I do, so could we really agree on a spinach pizza? And also, given that he doesn't normally like spinach, I highly doubted he was a foodie like me, which meant he probably didn't have a very sophisticated palate. So... check, never taking restaurant/food advice from a non-foodie again, lol.

Stuffed Spinach Pizza

I mean, it was okay, certainly not terrible or anything. I might have liked it more had I been better able to taste the spinach, and Robbie said she would have liked it more if she had been less able to taste it. LOL. So yeah, it was our third trial of Chicago pizza, and it was a bust. We tried 3 different, well-recced places, so I think we gave it a fair shot. I can't imagine that Giordano's, the place we cut from the list, would have changed our minds completely. I do remember really loving Pizzeria Uno though, but I ate there when I was in D.C. and maybe they did it differently. Or maybe I just loved their spinach & broccoli pizza a little too much.

Before heading to the airport we did stop by Garrett (more popcorn for both of us) and Potbelly (for sandwiches to be eaten at the airport or on our flights home).

Oh Chicago -- thank you for being such a great foodie town!

View of Chicago


frances-lopez said...

Oh my God. These are top-shelf, X-rated posts, girl!

Your time at the Girl and the Goat sounds wonderful, I'm dying of jealousy.

Sarah said...

I keep meaning to go to Girl & the Goat, but the boyfriend and I are horrible plan-in-advance people (we're doing a staycation night in River North tonight & booked our hotel yesterday, for example). Someday we will plan in advance!

But I was really excited to see the Kuma's Corner bit, haha. I'm so glad you got the mac & cheese bc omgheaven. We usually go with 6 people (the most they'll take) and get mac & cheese as an appetizer...and then take half the burger home. The one you got is one I think I've never actually seen ordered by me or my friends. Plague Bringer is my favorite. But only because I love garlic so much.

Also, re: the second post...that's how sausage is done (correctly) on Chicago deep dish pizza. You can get crumbles if you ask, but it's supposed to just be a big disc of meat under the cheese. NOT WEIRD; AUTHENTIC! :)

Sarah said...

Also: One thing I'm surprised not to see on here is hot dogs since it's one of the famous Chicago food things. Superdawg (♥) or Hot Doug's or (if you're adventerous) Wienercircle at 3am :)

(In case you or anyone reading this is unaware of a Chicago-style hot dog: mustard, relish, onions, tomato wedges, dill pickle spear, sport peppers, and celery salt atop an all-beef, generally Vienna, hot dog & nestled in a poppy seed bun.)

Jen said...

Frances - Teehee, thanks! The G&tG experience really was amazing. I wish everyone could try it.

Sarah - Yeah, this kind of advanced planning is almost even beyond me, and I'm an advanced planner. I mean, I called 2 weeks ahead and could only get 10pm reservations.

Kuma's was definitely one of my favorite food experiences in Chicago. The burger was just so good. I'm a mushroom lover so I had to go with that one. ;) If ONLY we lived in the area, we totally could have taken leftovers because your idea sounds perfect, lol. Unfortunately our leftovers were mostly wasted.

Someone on LJ did clue me in on the sausage! My friend would definitely have loved to have had that info in advance so that she could have requested it the un-authentic way, LOL.

Jen said...

Sarah - Re: hot dogs, you're right. We had Hot Doug's on the list, but for one reason or another, it simply wasn't convenient to go (and my friend wasn't super into it). But Hot Doug's and Superdawg were the two hot dog places on our list. I'll definitely hit it next time!

brienze said...

Just read all three of your Chicago food posts... great stuff, and even your 'bad' pictures were plenty good enough.

One question for you... at the upscale places, especially Girl and the Goat, do you have to dress up? I'm in Austin, which is known for being almost militantly casual no matter how expensive the restaurant. Chicago is at the top of my list of cities to visit, but I have my doubts about getting the DH to wear a suit.

Jen said...

brienze - Casual dress at all the places we went to, including G&tG! I had the same 'fears' as you, because Seattle is also a very laid-back sort of place, but I had no problems with regular casual dress at any of the places where we ate, even the nicer ones.

We even saw "Next to Normal" while there, but even for a "Broadway" show (granted it was a matinee) people were casually dressed.