Girl & the Goat, Chicago, IL (April 2014)

If you’re willing to suspend your sense of self-preservation for one evening, Girl & the Goat is the place to do it. This wasn’t a meal so much as a stampede of flavor-detonating dishes.

There is, of course, the mirthfully titled roasted pig face, so savory in its porcine essence that your palate pleads for a respite. The pappardelle sugo proved to be the most intensely satisfying bowl of pasta I’ve had in recent memory: wide noodles of unearthly satin were draped over a meaty pork and goat-based ragu, all of which was punctuated by tart gooseberries.

A plate of goat belly, lobster and clams hobnobbed with vanilla as if they were lifelong comrades. To conclude the savory offerings, out came an utterly clutterless bowl lined with salsa verde, which served as the perfect vessel for my fork to conduct a series of adventures piling slices of beef tongue and pickled onions atop crisp shards of masa.

And then there’s the service, which was exceptional throughout the two-hour dinner, certainly better than I expected, and far better than it needs to be. Patrick, my tattooed server for the evening, exuded an infectious enthusiasm and couldn’t have been defter in pacing the courses. But it wasn’t just Patrick, for every member of the front-of-house staff I encountered seemed to be a bliss merchant.

By the meal’s end, I’m convinced I wore a look of fatigue and satisfaction, as a server who was overseeing another section of the restaurant stopped by to congratulate me on my feat of imprudence.

I can’t recall the last time I was so bowled over by a restaurant’s food and service. Actually, on second thought, I can, and it was in the three-star Michelin institutions of Eleven Madison Park in New York and The Restaurant at Meadowood in St. Helena. Girl & the Goat is a restaurant worth crossing borders for, and I’m only too happy to report that I’ve found my go-to restaurant whenever my travels take me to Chicago.

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Diver scallop, sweet curry, sweet onion, bacon and papadums

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Roasted cauliflower, pickled peppers, pine nuts and mint

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Wood oven roasted pig face, sunny side up egg, tamarind, cilantro, red wine-maple sauce, and potato sticks

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Fried duck tongues, tuna and black bean poke, crispy wontons, piri piri

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Pappardelle sugo, rosemary and cape gooseberries

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Sauteed green beans, fish‌ sauce vinaigrette and cashews

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Confit goat belly, bourbon butter, lobster and crab, vanilla bean and fennel

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Wood grilled broccoli, rogue smokey bleu cheese, spiced crispies

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Braised beef tongue, masa crisps, beef vinaigrette and salsa verde

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Dessert sampler: (1) “coffeecake” semifreddo, ruby red grapefruit and cacao nib, (2) plantain cake, cream cheese-chocolate chip gelato, passion fruit, left hand milk stout, (3) sticky date cake, whipped yogurt, spiced kumquat, almond halva, (4) miso-butterscotch budino, bacon toffee, glazed pineapple, candied cashews

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