Monday, April 1, 2013

Girl and the Goat

When the time came for Mrs. Hackknife's co-workers to plan her going-away dinner, the list of potential venues was both long and impressive (her reputation as a foodie is not a secret around the office). She was given an opportunity to make her own suggestions, and we decided to include (half-jokingly) Girl and the Goat (809 W. Randolph), Chef Stephanie Izard's temple of casual gastronomic wonder that has been frustrating would-be patrons since it burst comet-like onto the local dining scene in 2010. Almost 3 years later, with wait times for reservations still extending 2 months and beyond, surely there was no chance a work party would be able to secure a table with less than 10 day's notice, right? As it turns out, we discovered quite by accident that the easiest way to get into G&G (on a weekend, no less) is to book a group of 25 people in the restaurant's private basement bunker. Miraculously, this is exactly where we found ourselves on a chilly Friday evening in February, snug and giddy and not quite believing our good fortune at having jumped the queue, so to speak.

The basement party room also does duty as the restaurant's top-shelf liquor closet (see photo above). I have to believe that, on several occasions, this environment has encouraged tipsy and/or opportunistic diners to clandestinely sample, say, some grappa or artisanal bourbon from the house's supply, with the hosts later discovering a surprise charge or two on the tab for the night's proceedings. I can't speak for all the members of our party, but I know that the majority of us were there for the food, a marathon collection of 13 small plates served family style, plus some killer breads/compound butters/dipping oils and 4 delicious desserts whose specific details have been lost to the mists of time (the sweets appeared at the end of the meal, well after excessive consumption caused me to lose all semblance of lucidity).

What you see above is a picture of my favorite dish of the night, dreamy empanadas stuffed full of goat meat, served with radish-endive slaw and romesco (a Spanish sauce containing, among other ingredients, nuts and red peppers) for dipping. Not that there weren't others nearly as good, such as addictive pan-fried shishito peppers with parmesan, sesame, and miso (our served told us that 1 out of 20 shishitos is exceedingly spicy; however, I don't think any of us found the demon pepper) or a pan-roasted Arctic char with sunchoke, ruby red grapefruit, olives, and crispy lentils. Besides goat, America's Culinary Sweetheart also works wonders with simple vegetables - her creations of kohlrabi (in a salad with fennel, LaClare Farms Evalon cheese, roasted shiitakes, toasted almonds, and a ginger dressing), cauliflower (roasted with pickled peppers, pine nuts, and mint), and green beans (sauteed with cashews and a fish sauce vinaigrette) put to shame anything I've ever attempted at home (I suspect even my picky progeny eaters might have a go at these veggies).

Wait - there's more. Surprisingly light chickpea fritters appeared, served with stewed winter greens and a prairie fruit chevre. Tender grilled baby octopus, featuring guanciale (cured pork jowl, that elusive salumi), wax beans, pistachios, and a lemon vinaigrette stood shoulder-to-shoulder with a mindblowing beef short rib, dirty fried rice, onion salad, and pickled mushroom. By the time the crisp braised pork shank with butternut squash-shiitake kimchi, buttermilk dressing, and naan arrived at the table, I was practically begging for mercy.

G&G's service was exemplary. Our waiter was on top of pretty much every conceivable need we had, even providing the requisite encouragement when one member of our party took it upon himself to attempt opening a wine bottle using nothing more than a dress shoe and a brick wall (he was successful, I might add, a turn of events that has since passed into legend - who says that YouTube isn't useful?). The house even provided us with personalized menus of the evening's plates and (!) cookbooks signed by the chef for me and the missus. Many, many thanks to the G&G staff and Mrs. Hackknife's co-workers for creating a tremendous, truly memorable dining experience...

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