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Girl and the Goat, Chicago

In my mind I keep thinking this place is named Smoking Goat as I have been wanting to visit a restaurant with that name in London after reading a fantastic review. I read that Smoking Goat specialises in Thai style barbecue and the thought of skewers with highly spiced, deliciously charred meats sounds thrilling.

It was quite a surprise to find a restaurant in Chicago championing goat meat. This was my first visit to the Windy City but on trips to other cities I have found the American palate outside of New York to be, well, less adventurous. The fact that this year the James Beard Awards were held in Chicago should have been an indication that the city is now vying with the Big Apple for title of America's culinary capital, however reading is not believing.

We therefore arrived at Girl and the Goat with a certain amount of expectation, along with a certain amount of hunger, it being 9.30pm and having not had a bite to eat since lunch, prior to boarding our plane. We had hoped to be seated sooner than our booking of 10.30pm but no such luck. The place was heaving. The staff were tired. It had been heaving since it opened at 4.30pm most likely. As our exhausted waiter moaned later that evening, he had started at 3pm and last orders on a Friday are at midnight. That is a pretty brutal service schedule. Nor did it help our experience.

We were bordered on both sides by people who were hammered. The second party on our left even asked if they could try our chips. Well I suppose I should be thankful that they asked! We had finished eating and happily passed them over. To be honest I have no problem with sharing my food, its more the social faux pas of asking strangers if you can tuck into their dinner. Perhaps I should be less judgemental.

Overall there are some good ideas being served up, but the execution was sloppy, quality control was clearly out the window that night, and in some cases what the kitchen sent out was frankly cheeky. Plus the sommelier had scarpered for the night leaving us in the hands of our sweet but uttering unknowledgeable server. I was also disappointed to discover the championed goats are butchered very young as sucklings, before they have time to develop their characteristically gamey, musky flavour and so really could be mistaken for being lamb. I do think there are some interesting ideas here, but if you are going to be bold, be brave too and don't duck out and serve lamb-goat. And give your staff shorter shifts and the chance to actually impress your guests.

This is what we ate:

Who can't love a menu with its own separate Goats section?

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Wood fired wildcat cove oysters with horseradish, bacon and preserved lemon. Thinking back to some wonderful buttery, smoky chargrilled oysters at Acme Oyster House in New Orleans we were seduced by this dish's name but it was misleading.

The oysters may have seen a wood oven, but only to be exposed to enough heat to die and allow easy opening, rather than absorb any wood smoke flavour. The meat was still rare to raw and its warmth was off-putting, suggestive of eating raw oysters that had not been kept on ice. At that temperature your oysters must be perfectly fresh and these did not taste like they were. The horseradish cream, bacon and preserved lemon with parsley dressing were forgettable.

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A much better dish of paper thin rounds of raw goat carpaccio dressed with lightly applewood smoked golden trout roe, fried and raw capers, a few punchy slices of raw white onion, frisée and deep-fried parsnip crisps. We couldn't taste the advertised maple-olive dressing.

I loved the interplay of clean, raw meat with smoky, oily fish roe and piquant, crisp capers. There were so many parsnip crisps however their flavour dominated and overpowered the delicate goat meat, the first indication of the latter's youth at slaughter.

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Roasted and pickled beetroot over avocado crème frâiche with green beans, marinated white anchovies, slivers of blanched lemon rind, frisée, shredded kale and olive oil fried panko crumbs. A lovely salad that we ended up taking home (to allow room to try more of the menu) and thoroughly enjoyed for breakfast the next day with some leftover blue cheese. The pickled beets reminded me of the ones I find as a stable on UK supermarket shelves. My only criticism is the sweet and sour slices of earthy vegetable needed a richer and more robust partner than the slightly bland avocado cream to make the dish more assertive. Or perhaps just more anchovies as had we not hunted them out they might not have been noticed at all.

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Chips dusted in dehydrated ham powder with smoked tomato mayonnaise and cheddar beer dips. I loved that the ham powder was used to season the potatoes throughout, not just scattered over the top. The smoky, peppery, limey dip was a perfect match and the cheddar beer dip was exactly that.

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Snail ravioli with wilted lettuce, deep-fried onions, little (sadly overcooked and dry) bacon dice and a genius tamarind and miso sauce. The pasta was cooked to a beautiful al dente but far too thick and once again the deep fried vegetable garnish overpowered the delicate protein, almost as though chef was trying to apologise for serving snails by hiding them. The sauce was a knockout of sweet-sour and savoury flavours, made even better by dragging ham-dusted chips through it.

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Squid bruschetta was a recommendation from our waiter and we had to thank him for it. It was one of the night's unexpected winners. Ringlets of squid, cooked to bouncy but still soft tenderness in browned butter, cleverly paired with green tomato dice, micro basil and crisp wafer thin shards of goat bacon, served on a baguette baked with clam juice, fried in more brown butter and smeared with goat's milk ricotta. This was buttery, creamy, meaty and salty, lifted by the light acidity of unripe tomatoes and floral notes from baby basil. Brilliant.

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Confit goat belly and chunks of poached lobster and crab on parsnip purée, doused with vanilla bourbon butter and garnished with shaved fennel and pea shoots. A land meets sea protein pairing which seems to be a menu favourite this year but often yields pleasing results. This was no exception, although the fact that crisped tender lamb belly could just as easily have been substituted was a real shame. I was longing to taste some goaty funk, as a contrast to the virginally sweet bites of shellfish. Vanilla was a great addition as it works so well with lobster and with parsnip.

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A greedy plate of cheeses to finish. We had to send our first plate back, protesting over two portions of cheese being more rind than anything else. Check out the before and after photos below. Even then there was nothing to be done about the tragic condition of the cave aged tomme (left) that was so dry it looked and tasted desiccated. Dunbarton blue (middle) was slightly better but also nearing the end of its life. in contract the Aspen ash was creamy, gooey and delicious. I am guessing the latter is ordered most by a clientele that prefers mild cheeses. Perhaps we should have considered this before ordering.

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Girl and the Goat

809 W Randolph Street

Chicago, IL 60607

Tel: (312) 492-6262

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